SLAMS goes on a nostalgic ride back to everyone’s childhood and favourite mermaid with their latest show, The Little Mermaid. Based on the 1989 Disney film, the show follows Ariel on her quest to find herself, her voice and her love, on land or under the sea.
The Little Mermaid is a huge show to pull off, with huge expectations set by it being a Disney show. Unfortunately this show never quite found its legs on the Alan Ross Centre stage at Billanook College in Mooroolbark, with some serious sound, lighting and set issues holding back the performance.
Performances by Brooke Young as Ariel, Felicity Eastwood as Ursula and Marcus Frost as Flounder shone out throughout the show, but often had to battle the band to be heard. Liam Kilgour as Chef Louis in Act 2 also deserves a special mention for being some much needed comic relief in the love story. In community theatre, it’s not uncommon for only the lead characters to be wearing microphones, but for this show it means that the chorus, mermaid sisters and all hint of sopranos are lost in the music. The sound design and mixing also doesn’t work to the performers’ advantage, with a very loud and tinny band drowns out the delicate voices of the chorus. When paired with the un-microphoned chorus members, numbers like Daughters of Triton are completely lost on the audience.
It brings me to a lesson I feel most theatre has forgotten at the moment: DICTION. While Under the Sea was the musical highlight of the show, the song was unintelligible and the lyrics completely lost in the mix of Ryan Purdy’s “Rastafarian” style accent for Sebastian and the chorus battling to be heard over the band. Diction from all cast members, and some projection would certainly help break through the mix in the venue. The other question was about how much of the show used pre recording in the music: in the opening number, it’s like someone bumped the CD player, as chorus members were cut off mid sentence by back stage singers, a complete change in style of music and tempo, and were just left to shrug their shoulders and continue on. The performers should feel proud to have negotiated their way through the songs of this show so well, considering the difficulties they were facing – it’s not clear whether they had a monitor available to follow the conducting and musical direction of Phil Scanlon, and how they were able to keep in time with cast members and band members playing and singing out of sight.
The lighting is lovely when it’s on, but maybe it’s the opening night jitters or some under rehearsal that leads to a large majority of the cues to be significantly late. Paired with some noisy and slow set changing, there is a lot of dead time during the show while lights are up and sets are being changed, or crew members are walking across the stage without clear direction. It did give us more time to admire the set, which was ambitious and appeared heavy and bulky for the crew to try and navigate. Big, bold boats and Corinthian columns framed the stage but the boats had some near misses with the stage walls as well as cast members trying to gain their balance when the set moved.
With Brenton van Vliet acting in almost every major production team role (direction, sound design, set design, puppet construction, costume design, publicity and promotions, the show feels, as tired as he must be. Costumes were not flattering, especially on female members of the cast and the mermaids, and the use of kids rolly shoes, while trying to emulate the skates used in the Broadway production were not my personal highlight and felt tacky- the jarring motions of the cast members run, step and scooting on their way across the stage felt less graceful than if they were to simply step and glide evenly across the stage. The puppets were gorgeous and well constructed, though underused throughout the show.
Choreography by Colin Harley was both graceful and boppy, with Hairspray-esque movements and styling for the mermaids and upbeat contemporary movements throughout the show. The mermaids, on their chunky wheels, moved with as much grace as their large tails would allow them, but all under sea characters did well to maintain a “floating” style presence, like the lull of a current, through gentle hand movements.
The Little Mermaid plays until 19th March at Billanook College, Mooroolbark.