Monday, March 17, 2014

A Magnificent Little Mermaid

For those who can't get enough under the sea: this show is for you. 

Photo Courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theater

The Little Mermaid is the first movie I ever saw in my life.

I tell you this to let you know two things: one, that I have a love of the Disney film that is unmatched, and two, because of this, I have extremely high standards for any reproductions I may have come across. 

It's great news, then, that Chanhassen Dinner Theater, which recently debuted the musical on stage for the first time in the midwest, passes those high standards with almost universal flying colors. 

Quick rundown for the few of you who aren't familiar with the story: Ariel is a rebellious teen mermaid princess who refuses to follow her father King Triton's directive to stay away from humans. Triton is predictably angry when he realizes Ariel has fallen in love with a human prince, then despairs when he learns that she has sold her voice to her evil aunt Ursula in order to become a human and be with Prince Eric. Ursula blackmails Triton into giving her his royal power into return for Ariel's freedom, but Ariel and Eric save the day and become happily married shortly thereafter.

Let's start with the superb cast: first and foremost is local musicale wunderkind Tyler Michaels (as Prince Eric), who at this point I am convinced cannot fail at anything with a spotlight and a live orchestra. His voice is pristine, he gets to *briefly* use his wonderful circus experience, and despite a short amount of time on stage, he is, as always, a delight. 

Photo courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theater

The surprise of the night went to Caroline Innerbichler, who presented a pitch-perfect Ariel (no, for real: I was actually in nostalgic tears the second she started singing). Innerbichler has the hair, the innocence, and especially the voice to lead the audience through the story. Parents and fellow mermaid-ers, listen up: see. the. show. for. her. 

The rest of the show is also well-cast; other highlights include Kersten Rodau as a deliciously devious Ursula and Jay Albright in a hilarious turn as Scuttle. Andre Shoals is a bit hit or miss as Sebastian, but his solos (including the always delightful "Kiss the Girl") are right on point. 

Due (presumably) to space limitations, this Little Mermaid doesn't have *quite* the Broadway flash that one might expect of a Disney production, and it's the only possible weak spot in the show. While inventive, costumes and sets can feel a little overly cartoonish. But this is a small quibble; the voices and characterizations in this show are so enchanting that a little extra padding and lamé aren't even noticeable.

Photo Courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theater

The entire show is musically strong, but standouts include "Part of Your World," "Sweet Child," and "One Step Closer." This Little Mermaid is also surprisingly funny, particularly in "Daughters of Triton" and "Les Poissons." 

Long story short: any fellow Ariel-philes should dive, not doggypaddle, their way to Chanhassen to see one of the most youthful, refreshing plays I've ever seen. It's great fun for people of any age, family and date friendly, and the food is good to-boot. It's also bound to be one of the only times you'll see a full cast this strong all together (Michaels is already slated to head My Fair Lady at the Guthrie this summer), and it's worth taking advantage of. If you want to know more about the Little Mermaid or purchasing tickets, click on this link.