While Disney Theatrical has treated local audiences to a number of musicals over the past 25 years based on classic films (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin and Mary Poppins), some of its productions are yet to make their way to Australia.
One of the musicals not yet given the full-scale Disney treatment on our shores is The Little Mermaid, based on the 1989 animated film and the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. But thanks to Pro-Am theatre company Birdie Productions, Sydney audiences now have the opportunity to see the Disney take on The Little Mermaid. The production is currently playing at Bankstown’s Bryan Brown Theatre until 22 April and makes for a great evening of family entertainment.
With a book by Doug Wright (also the book writer for Grey Gardens and, more recently, War Paint), The Little Mermaid in its musical form is essentially the same story as that in the 1989 film, with a few minor adjustments. It’s the story of Ariel (Jaime Hadwen), a mermaid princess who longs to join the world above the sea. Determined to achieve that goal, she visits her wicked aunt, Ursula (Michele Lansdown), who agrees to transform Ariel’s tail into human legs, allowing her to pursue the human prince, Eric (Tom Ragen), on terra firma. Of course, nothing is straightforward and Ariel soon begins to understand the difficulties involved in getting what she wants. This is a story of pursuing dreams and the sacrifices that may be necessary along the way.
Taking their place alongside classic songs from the film (including ‘Part of Your World’, ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’), several other compositions – with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater – have been added to the score, and the good news is that the old and new cohere nicely. Those familiar with The Little Mermaid’s Broadway iteration should also take note that the musical was revised by Glenn Casale in 2012, with that revision involving a re-ordering of some songs and the addition of new number, ‘Daddy’s Little Angel’.
Recreating a much-loved Disney classic with a demanding score and a myriad of stage magic tricks is ambitious, but Birdie Productions has admirably risen to the challenge. The result is a highly entertaining evening of musical theatre that will win over young and older audience members alike. This is a production with heart, championing the notion that dreams are within reach if one can understand and come to terms with precisely what it will take to achieve them.
Fresh from playing ABBA’s Agnetha in the world premiere production of Muriel’s Wedding The Musical, Hadwen is delightful as the impulsive and effervescent Ariel, fiercely determined to become part of a world she knows nothing about. She proves the perfect fit for the Disney princess, portraying a character that is the stubborn but magnetic young woman we expect to see. Vocally, she is in fine form and beautifully delivers the show’s standout ballad, ‘Part of your world’.
Ragen lends geniality and integrity to Prince Eric, the object of Ariel’s affection. He has a rich baritone and infuses sung moments with convincing emotion and his performance of ‘Her Voice’ is a particular highlight.
Julian Kuo endears as Sebastian, Ariel’s caretaker and the king’s loyal servant. He demonstrates strong comedic sensibilities, both in his line delivery and aptly animated facial expressions. Andrew Symes brings both the impressive voice and authoritative stage presence befitting of the legendary sea king he’s charged with playing; and young teen actor Kai Lloyd-Jones is terrific as Flounder, the boisterous guppy hopelessly devoted to Ariel.
As King Triton’s villainous and scheming sister, Lansdown shows she’s also well cast. Ursula’s sea witch bite comes from being artful and cunning rather than treacherous, and Lansdown brings the right amount of charm and star quality, making her up to the task.
The set is primarily composed of several LED screens that facilitate the easy movement between sea and land locations and showcase vibrant animated backdrops created by Isabella Spagnolo. There is high attention to detail in Rachael Adams’ costumes and each character is instantly recognisable, further enhanced by Ellie May Mansfield’s hair and make-up designs. Musical director Joshua Ransom’s work with the 14-piece orchestra has resulted in a tight reproduction of the score, while Craig Nhobbs’ choreography includes a laudable tap sequence.
For children of the nineties and noughties, Birdie Productions’ The Little Mermaid is a genuinely enjoyable and nostalgic experience, revisiting one of Disney’s best musical titles. For children of today, it’s a fabulous introduction to live musical theatre. And if you’re too old to fit into either of those categories, sit back and enjoy a theatrical display that features gorgeously melodic music performed by a wonderful cast.
THE LITTLE MERMAID – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 22 April, 2018
Venue: Bryan Brown Theatre, Bankstown
Ticket prices: Adult- $42.50; Concession- $37.50; Children- $22.50; Groups 10+- $37.50; Family (2 Adults, 2 Children)- $110
Tickets on Sale Now from: www.birdieproductions.com.au