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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'Little Mermaid' makes a big splash in Olney

Donna Migliaccio is "Ursula" in Olney Theatre Center's Disney's The Little Mermaid/Photo by Stan Barouh

It's a whale of a good time at Disney's The Little Mermaid, now playing at the Olney Theatre Center, a production sure to delight most family members (or the ones old enough to be undaunted by the yikes of the ugly sea
serpentress, Ursula).

And what good timing.  Just in time for the holidays.

Poor Ariel (Lara Zinn). The Little Mermaid is so dainty, feminine and innocent, compared to her mean and conniving Aunt Ursula (Donna Migliaccio), who steals the stage every time the Black Witch and her eeeeeels (Robert Mintz and Nurney) come onboard. That dastardly trio lives inside a giant red-eyed shark's cave way down under, the better to see you, my little pretty.

What is a musical without a dance and a girl in a long, twirling dress?  Joe Chisholm is "Prince Eric," and Lara Zinn is "Ariel" in Olney Theatre Center's Disney's The Little Mermaid/Photo by Stan Barouh

The Little Mermaid is Hans Christian Andersen 's tail of 1867 which was mostly forgotten until the Disney team brought it back from the depths and made it into a musical.

Ariel is the youngest of seven daughters of King Triton (Nicholas Ward) whose booming, operatic voice commands the stage whenever he's on board, unless preempted by his sister, Ursula.

Meanwhile, from under the sea Ariel spies a "human" tumbling into the water, a man who happens to be, just happens to be, a prince (!),  Prince Eric (Joe Chisholm), to be exact, and Ariel falls tail over fins in love and lust at first sight.  And is his lifesaver, to boot.

But to "get" to him, she must adopt human ways, anathema to her father, but welcomed by Ugly Ursula who grants Ariel her wish in exchange for Ariel's voice, that's all. 

Once you see Ursula in action, with her cackle and sweeping mannerisms, effectively complemented by statuesque hair of starched, long white worms, and her full, floor-length black gown piped in sparkling amethyst jewels and snakelike long stole which she waves hither and yon like an octopus ensnaring those who may resist, that Ms. Migliaccio has won two Helen Hayes Awards and has been nominated for ten more is no surprise.  (That sentence is almost as long as her stole.)  Her two eels are perfectly slithering green lizards on skating shoes (the likes of which are nicely utilized  by other cast members, too).

The second act bursts from the ocean's floor with an excellent number by the mad feathered bird, "Scuttle" (Clark Young), another show stopper, who flies and caws constantly in motion, and taps and sings with fellow birds in She's Got Legs.  It's one of the best numbers of the whole performance, not to be outdone by fine harmonies by the quartet (Ariel, Prince Eric, Titan, and Sebastian) in If Only, and a magic chef (Ethan Watermeier), responsible for lots of laughs and silliness.

The action in the second act more than makes up for a somewhat lethargic script in the first act, including, yes, the scene everyone longs for: the heroine in a twirling, flowing gown, dancing with a prince in a palace, the magical musical potion. (This is Cinderella Underwater with a voice to sink any glass slipper.)

Flounder (Sean McComas), Ariel's would-be lover, wins the award for most constantly moving character, since they all must conquer the waves, while waddling Sebastian (Troy Hopper) dips craftily into almost every scene, to dispense advice, that's all.

Staff stationed on either side of the stage shake long sheets of blue and green "ocean waves," tossing actors up and down "in the water."  In one of the most exceptional designs, Ariel "floats" to the surface near the end of the show, the audience watching from an "underwater window."

The sets (by James Fouchard) are not overbearing, and the boat assembly made quickly in the first act, and the palace with candles and windows are striking. Unconvincing and confusing are what may be painted cardboard cut-outs of "schools of fish" carried around in up and down motion by humans in blue.

The costumes (by Pei Lee) are shimmering and dashing, from the pretty rainbow dresses with matching headpieces worn by Ariel's six sisters when they dance and play, to their maid uniforms in the palace, to their beauty as they vie to become the prince's "bride." The sailors are even decked out in fetching black striped shirts with red scarves.

With the large cast and many different changes (Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith said the cast and crew numbered 64, and it seems like more), the costume shop had to work feverishly, one suspects, to accomplish its masterstrokes.  

Adding depth and enjoyment is the Olney's omnipresent nine-member orchestra, "under the sea," led by Darius Smith, and an electric keyboard, played by Jacob Kidder, which reigned throughout much of the show, but never drowned out the actors.  Other members of the orchestra are Patrick Plunk, Tony Neenan, Andrew Houde, Patricia Wnek, Lauren Weaver, Frank Higgins, and Alex Aucoin.

Other cast members: Kenneth Derby, Matt Greenfield, Jay Garrick, Ethan Kasnett, Lance E. Hayes, Jennifer Cordiner, Jane Bunting, Suzanne Stanley, Taylor Elise Rector, Ashleigh King, and Gracie Jones.

And crew: Mark Waldrop, director; Tara Jeanne Vallee, choreographer; Tony Angelini, sound; Julie H. Duro, lighting' JJ Kaczynski, projection; and Andrea "Dre" Moore, puppets.

Go ahead and take the plunge and have yourself a very merry Christmas "under the sea."

What: Disney's The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.

When: Now through December 28, 2014

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets start at $31.00, with discounts for military, groups, and students.  

Refreshments: Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400

For more reviews of Disney's The Little Mermaid at the Olney and other plays, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

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