Ursula

Kitty Balay as Ursula.

The holiday season approaches, but it's still warm enough for a dip “Under the Sea” at PCPA's production of “The Little Mermaid.”

In Disney's take on the fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the mermaid is named Ariel. She's fascinated by humans, though contact with the surface is forbidden by her father, the sea-king Triton. One night, she rescues the human Prince Eric from a shipwreck and falls in love with him. In desperation, she turns to Ursula the sea-witch and trades her voice for a pair of legs. She has only three days to convince Eric to fall in love with her, or else lose her soul to Ursula forever. Eric is already in love with his rescuer, but unfortunately, he can only identify her by her beautiful singing voice.

The animated classic is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. With a catchy, Calypso-flavored score by Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics), it breathed new life into the movie musical. The stage version features all the familiar songs, plus several additions by Menken and Glenn Slater.

ABC broadcast a star-studded live production earlier this month. A live-action remake is also planned. It's claimed these remakes “bring the animated film to life” – but only a live stage production does that.

“Little Mermaid” came to Broadway in 2008. Librettist Doug Wright had to make changes so the material would work onstage – but some are baffling.

He's softened both the rebellious teen Ariel and her authoritarian father.. “She'll learn to fear me,” laments the now self-aware Triton, “and I don't want that!” This drains tension from their conflict.

Most strangely, Ariel's fish pal Flounder now has a secret crush on her. This subplot goes nowhere.

But as Sebastian the crab says, “The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake.” (Plus, the film changed a lot from Andersen's original tale.)

Director Melissa Rain Anderson delivers everything we expect from a PCPA holiday production – spectacle, fun and heart.

Jason Bolen's set features a painterly backdrop of swirling blue-green ocean currents, framed with a neon glow. At center stage is a swirling pink nautilus shell pattern. The colors pop nicely.

Fans will instantly recognize their favorite characters, but Sara Curran Ice also brings an original touch to her costume designs.

Taking a cue from Wright, Katie Emerson's performance as Ariel's favors wide-eyed enthusiasm. However, her longing in “Part of Your World” hooks the audience's sympathies.

When she finally gets on dry land, she finds it “Beyond My Wildest Dreams.” Emerson particularly shines in this giddy number.

She and Luc Clopton's Eric make a sweet couple as they dance “One Step Closer” to one another.

Yusef Seevers is an over-the-top showman as crab composer Sebastian. His big, lavish production numbers like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are enhanced with aerial acrobatics and other feats (circus choreography by 2 Ring Circus.) This brings a unique element to the production.

The deep-voiced, imposing Erik Stein is ideally cast as King Triton.

“If Only” is the standout among the newer songs. Ariel, Eric, Sebastian and Triton all lament their inability to share their true feelings, in beautiful four-part harmony. (Musical direction by Brad Carroll and Michael Wilkins.)

As Ursula, Kitty Balay proves her character's line “Don't underestimate the importance of body language!” She brings swagger to the gleefully menacing villainess.

George Walker waddles onstage as the scatterbrained seagull Scuttle and instantly steals the show. He knows how to play to the audience and score big laughs. He also gets a showstopping tap number, “Positoovity.” [sic] (Choreography by Adam Cates.)

Amid all the spectacle, Peter S. Hadres brings a down-to-Earth sensibility to Eric's guardian, Grimsby.

Come be a part of PCPA's world, before the bubbles drift away.

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