‘The Little Mermaid’ is fun and colorful
All fish jokes aside, don’t let this be the one that got away.
Featuring 26 musical numbers, an (imaginary) underwater tropical paradise of colorful and clever costumes, and a cast of 42 talented actors, singers and dancers representing a mix of veterans and rookies — sometimes all on stage simultaneously singing and swimming — the Plaza Theatre Company has done it again, this time with a creative and eye-popping presentation of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” playing through Nov. 10 at the Plaza Theatre at Dudley Hall in Cleburne.
Although the musical was presented by PTC as recently as February of last year, that was at the old Plaza Theater on South Main where a smaller stage limited the size of dance troupes and singing ensembles. Not now. The new Plaza Theatre at Dudley Hall, with a couple of 100 square feet of additional floor space, enables dancers to twirl and jump without landing on someone in the front row.
While the voices, choreography and acting are what you expect from PTC, this, its 123rd production since 2006, also features some amazing costumes, 90 percent of which were designed by costume constructors Hope Arendse and Lizzie Dalley under the direction of PTC co-founder and costume designer Tina Barrus.
Kudos too to two co-directors, Soni and Jodi Barrus, who amazingly orchestrate all the action on stage, plus organize the 25-member production team that includes choreography by Nicole Wheat, lights and sound by Cameron Barrus and G. Aaron Siler, and some amazing sets designed and constructed by Soni Barrus, Parker Barrus, Jesse Bowron and Nolan Moralez, including an impressive ship from the opening scene, a massive vessel that somehow disassembles and disappears.
Most of the play takes place underwater, with the stage inhabited at various times by sea urchins, sea horses, electric eels, a guppy, a mean octopus-looking villain, flotsam, jetsam, and mermaids; while the little time on land features a noisy gaggle of sea gulls.
Another clever ingredient has many cast members wearing Heelys, a roller skate-sneaker hybrid that allows the actors, dancers and others to glide around the stage, simulating the fluid and grace of underwater movement.
Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen and the popular Disney film, “Little Mermaid” is about Ariel (played by Eden Barrus, whose excellent voice hit all the right notes) a teenager who wants to live on land but cannot leave her five sisters or her father, Triton (Chris Wagner), king of the underwater world.
Although this is her 38th PTC production, it’s the first time Eden Barrus has a leading role on the Plaza stage. The daughter of PTC quad-founders Tina and JaceSon Barrus and the granddaughter of co-directors Soni and Jodi Barrus, and the sister of siblings in the show Cameron, Parker, Mimi and JJ, she not only has earned the opportunity, she excels in it.
But now, back to our story. When a ship wreck plunges handsome Prince Eric (played by David Midkiff) into the sea, Ariel saves him, falls in love with him and strikes a deal with Triton’s wicked sister, Ursula the Sea Witch (menacing played by Emily Warwick), for a chance to meet him, get a kiss and stay on land. Otherwise, she goes back to the deep and forfeits her beautiful voice to Ursula.
Which is sorta ironic, because Warwick already has a great singing voice. PTC regulars will remember her songs from “Hairspray” and as Missy, one of the four “Marvelous Wonderettes” in which her outstanding rendition of “Secret Love” was a show-stopper.
All the while, Ariel is made to face reality by Sebastian (Matt Victory, reprising his role from 2017), a crab who always shuffles sideways onto the stage at just the right moment, while her mean aunt Ursula has Flotsam (Megan A. Liles) and Jetsam (Berkan Dincer, double-cast with Sam Tarron) to encourage her evil deeds.
Of course, many PTC productions have the veteran presence of Jay Lewis, who plays Grimsby, a sort of aide to the prince, in this, his 38th PTC show.
As with any Disney musical, there are those memorable musical numbers you hum on the drive home and send you to YouTube to see again. I especially enjoyed every Ariel solo (“The World Above,” “Part of Your World,” and “If Only”), Sebastian and the sea creatures versions of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” Scuttle the Sea Gull (Marissa Wheat) and her birdy buddies singing and dancing to “Positoovity” and Freddy Martinez Jr as Chef Louis in the very funny “Les Poissons” (Little Fish) accompanied by his cooking crew.
With a first act time of 58 minutes and a second act lasting 53 minutes, sandwiched around a 15-minute intermission, the start to finish time of two hours and six minutes manages to fly by with a musical number every four minutes or so. In addition to the great music, I found myself anticipating what awesome costumes would roll out for each number, never to be disappointed.
Thankfully, there’s no limit on this fish tale because I am going to catch it again.
“Disney’s The Little Mermaid” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, from a book by Doug Wright, directed by Sonie and Jodie Barrus, with music direction by Soni Barrus and makeup design by Maria Bautista, light design by Cameron Barrus and sound design by G. Aaron Siler, is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 10 at the 276-seat theater-in-the-round, Plaza Theatre at Dudley Hall, 305 S. Anglin St. in Cleburne.
Tickets — $25 for adults, $23 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $15 for youth age 13 and under — can be purchased online at www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.