Under the sea

'Little Mermaid' makes extravagant splash on stage

Palo Alto Players has pulled out all the stops for its season opener with a colorful, extravagant and fun production of "The Little Mermaid" as adapted for stage by Alan Menken and Doug Wright. It's big, it's bold and it pays wonderful homage to one of the most beloved animated films of all time.

The original tale by Hans Christian Andersen morphed quite a bit for Disney's film version and has morphed even more in the musical by Wright. It's still the story of spunky teenager Ariel (Cheyenne Wells), the mermaid who feels out of place in her watery home and longs to join the world of men on land. She's known for her voice like an angel, but also her fierce independence and unwillingness to bow to her father King Triton's (Nick Mandracchia) wishes. When fate throws sailor Prince Eric (Corey Miller) into the sea, Ariel rescues him and sings to revive him, and of course thus begins a timeless romance.

In this production, the action switches between underwater and above water scenes, sometimes on board Eric's ship, sometimes at his palace on land. There's some nifty sleight-of-hand scene shifting to make those transitions work, including flying and projections and more. Scenic designer Patrick Klein (also Players' artistic director) teamed with lighting designer Edward Hunter and projections technician Nick Kumamoto to make spectacular magic on the Stern stage. Little ones (and big people, too) will be suitably impressed and entertained by the enchantment.

In transforming the 1989 film to a musical in 2007, Menken and Wright revised the script, and Menken added at least 10 new songs, bringing in lyricist Glenn Slater after his original lyricist partner, Howard Ashman, died in the intervening years. Mixed critical reception on Broadway led to yet another reinvention by Glenn Casale in 2012, which became the authorized version for all current productions. Die-hard fans of the film may find some of the new numbers a bit mystifying or even distracting; the show is also considerably longer than the 90-minute movie, something patrons with small children need to know. But the enchanting performances and spectacle will definitely give them sugarplum dreams.

Wells is a true find for Ariel, sweet and feisty, with killer vocals and expert dancing -- a real triple threat. She's matched by the considerable talents of Daniel Lloyd Pias, who plays Sebastian the crab, and Miller and Mandracchia, all of whom deliver the goods in their solos and also join her for a beautiful quartet in Act Two. Kristen Hermosillo does a great turn as the sea-witch villain Ursula, and even Drew Hope (Flounder), Kevin Redrico (seagull Scuttle), and evil eels Jepoy Ramos (Flotsam) and Joshua C. Lau (Jetsam) get their chances to shine. Joey McDaniel, a Players' favorite, returns as the delightful Chef Louis, giving a fun rendering of "Les Poissons." The entire ensemble lives it up as numerous characters -- sailors, mermaid sisters, sea creatures, courtiers and more -- obviously enjoy their different incarnations.

Costume designer Ashley Grambow has a mammoth undertaking and succeeds admirably in bringing dozens of characters to life with creative costuming. Triton's ruffled skirt is puzzling, but Ursula the giant sea witch is nicely creepy and awesome at the same time. Hair and makeup by Christine Ormseth mostly pairs well with costumes, although the sailors' wigs are a bit woeful. Director Janie Scott and her team, including music director Lauren F. Bevilacqua, have created an amusing and charming show for all the family, and fill the Stern with a magical undersea fable.


What: "The Little Mermaid," Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, Book by Doug Wright, presented by Palo Alto Players

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: Through Oct. 2, with 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; N.B. no performance Sept. 30 and added performance on 10/1 at 2 p.m.

Cost: Tickets range $25-$55

Info: Go to paplayers.org or call 650-329-0891.

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