By Guest Reviewer Rick Busciglio
The Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey, has opened its 2014 - 2015 season with a “splashy” production of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID (pun intended). The musical—about a mermaid who dreams of the world above the sea and gives up her beautiful voice to find love—is based on the 1837 Hans Christian Anderson story and the 1989 Disney film. The production, directed by Stephen L. Fredericks, The Growing Stage’s Executive Director, beautifully presents the magical kingdom under the sea with all the familiar characters from the award-winning film: Ariel, King Triton, the evil Ursala, handsome Prince Eric, Sebastian the crab, etc. plus gorgeous costumes; the Growing Stage's signature, highly inventive, sets; and, of course, 28 well-staged and choreographed musical numbers performed by an enthusiastic cast of 25.
Leading the cast are eight fine professional equity performers: Emily Cara Portune as Ariel ( Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical); Anthony Crouchelli as the handsome Prince Eric; Maggie Graham as Ursula; Wayne Hu as King Triton; Jenna Morris as Allana; Lyndsey Brown as Aquata; PJ Schweizer as Scuttle the Sea Gull; and Nikole Rizzo as Arista. Other key roles are covered by Equity candidates and local community talent. This group includes standout performances by Steven Etienne as Sebastian a red Jamaican crab and a servant of King Triton, young Nicholas Profito as Flounder and Robert Scarpone as Chef Louis. The list of all the cast members is below.
Emily Cara Portune, a popular Growing Stage lead (Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical and Peter in Peter Pan), is an excellent Ariel with her fine voice and "leading lady" appearance. Maggie Graham has fun as the wicked Ursula. All the costumes are beautifully designed mostly in brilliant colors, with the Ursula costume, tentacles and all, a special standout. Wayne Hu makes a fine, firm King Triton (marvelous voice).
The comedy highlight is a frantic Marx Brothers type scene in the palace kitchen and the banquet hall with Chef Louis (Robert Scarpone) chasing Sebastian with a meat clever. His goal, naturally, is to serve crab for dinner not knowing of Ariel’s watery background.
The score features the classic songs Part of Your World, Kiss the Girl and the Academy Award-winning Best Original Song, Under the Sea composed by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and his longtime collaborator, the late Howard Ashman, as well as new songs by Mr. Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. The book for the musical is by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright.
Under The Sea, a calypso gem, is clearly the highlight of the musical. It features Steven Etienne as the crab Sebastian. Small point: His terrific head-to-toe red costume with large claw arms more closely resembles a boiled lobster.
Director Fredericks’ production team includes Jillian Petrie Choreography, Laura Petrie Musical direction, Perry Arthur Kroeger Set, props and puppet design and construction, Steve Graham Stage Manager.
As with all of the Growing Stage productions, this is very well produced family entertainment suitable from age 4, presented at a professional level that will also satisfy the grown-ups. The play runs about 90 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.
Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID runs through the 26th of October with performances Friday evenings at 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4:00 PM. The Growing Stage continues FUN-tastic Fridays with all tickets $15! Saturday and Sunday tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children and seniors. To place your reservation, please visit www.growingstage.com or call 973.347.4946. Group rates and Birthday Party packages are available.
The Growing Stage is located in the Palace Theater at 7 Ledgewood Ave, Netcong, NJ 07857.