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Review: Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's restaged 'Little Mermaid' a colorful treat for all ages

July 10, 2013

YellowBrix

July 10--Those who don't believe in reincarnation should drop into the Benedum Center this week to see how wrong they are.

"Disney's The Little Mermaid," a show that New York critics declared dead after 685 performances, has been given a second life in a revised and restaged version co-produced by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in association with Papermill Playhouse and Kansas City Starlight Theatre.

Like the 2008 Broadway production and the 1989 Disney animated feature film, its target audience will be the under-12 set who know the story of the young mermaid Ariel who longs to trade her undersea home for one in the surface world.

But those who take their kids out of a sense of duty will discover there's a lot of giddy fun, clever dialogue and over-the-top humor to make them glad they did.

"The Little Mermaid" is -- forgive the pun -- awash with Calypso music, inhabited by gracefully swaying sea anemones, artfully floating jellyfish and schools of fish in vibrant colors of tangerine and magenta and friends that include an articulate, intelligent crab and a flounder pal who adores the young mermaid Ariel.

Scenic designer Kenneth Foy has created a literal world of froth and bubbles where the tropically colored citizens float, flutter, sway as they deliver the catchy Calypso number "Under the Sea."

You can't help but wondering why Ariel would prefer the more somber surface world with its storms, sandy beaches and a stuffy castle where the chef, played with gusto by Timothy Shew, has a passion for skinning and deboning fish.

Well, there is Prince Eric, with whom she becomes smitten at first sight.

Nick Adams' Prince is blandly attractive in an amiable, but generic way.

But he's far less interesting than her crab friend Sebastian, whom Alan Mingo Jr. infuses with energy, dignity, wit and intelligence.

And although there is something to be said for the entertainment value of a quartet of tap-dancing seagulls, their on-land performance is no match for the drama, color and beauty of her watery world.

Chief seagull Scuttle can be downright annoying and -- through no fault of actor Matt Allen who plays him -- looks like he's in the terminal stages of severe molting.

So, it's a relief whenever Jessica Grove's Ariel returns to the briny depths.

Grove spends much of her time suspended in virtual water and gracefully propels herself forward, float and even backstroke.

She also has a pleasant voice, which she shows off in the wistful "Part of Your World" and the lament "If Only."

As Ariel's father King Triton, Edward Watts strikes a nice balance between fearsome ruler and concerned father, particularly in "If Only."

But, when it comes to high drama and entertainment, there's no beating Liz McCartney's delightfully over-the-top portrayal of the villainous and elaborately tentacled octopus and sea witch Ursula as she revels in her own wickedness in "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

It's not quite clear what her henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam are. Friends' guesses included alligators or electric eels. But Scott Leiendecker and Sean Patrick Doyle play Ursula's conspirators with serpentine smoothness.

The musical wraps up with a startling explosive confrontation between Ursula and King Triton that's followed by a predictable resolution.

Coming in at around two hours 20 minutes, the show may be a little long for younger audience members. But audience members young and old should find it was time well spent.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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(c)2013 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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