It's interesting to note that Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, one of the greatest and most successful songwriting pairs in recent Hollywood history, are well-represented in Fort Wayne this weekend. With productions of The Little Mermaid and Little Shop of Horrors simultaneously playing on city stages, their contribution to the last few generations of musical theater and Disney fans is pretty clear. (Another of their classics, Beauty and the Beast will be staged by the Civic in July.)
With The Little Mermaid, the Civic has really hit a home run. Fans of the Disney film will be enchanted, but even those who haven't experienced that beloved movie (and I must confess that, even though I have three kids who were born in the 80s, I have somehow missed out on this particular pleasure) will be charmed thoroughly by Civic's production. Every component of the musical is impeccable. The sets and lighting perfectly capture the beauty and colors of the underwater world. And the sets are moved so seamlessly throughout the show (with crew appearing to swim in from backstage to do their set change duties) that the show never lags for a moment.
The grace and movement demonstrated throughout the show adds to the its beauty, with Olivia Ross's choreography incorporating ballet and even a dynamic tap number to the mix. Wires allow the characters to swim to the surface or glide across the stage believably. Even though the wires themselves are clearly visible, the motion is so deft that it truly feels like the action is taking place under the sea.
Jan McCauley's costumes are especially lovely, adding to the colorful effect of a world of fish, mermaids and sea creatures. From Ariel and the Mersisters to little Flounder, the colors and fabrics used provide a feast for the eyes. From a purely technical standpoint, director Ranae Butler has provided the show with so much sparkle and luster that any fan of The Little Mermaid would be delighted.
And then there's the cast, one which perfectly demonstrates how much talent we have here in Fort Wayne. The two crucial leads - Rebecca Nelson as Ariel and Billy Dawson as Prince Eric - are a winning combination and each bring perfect vocal performances to their portrayals. But it's the supporting cast that really make the show special. Ennis Brown's Sebastian was clearly a crowd favorite (as the audience filed out of the theater, it was Sebastian who was noted as the biggest hit), but equally charming were the performances of a very young Jack Melton as Flounder and the delightfully villainous Ursula, played by Kayley Alissa Hinen. A second half appearance by the Chef, played by Reuben Albaugh, was also delicious.
With two more weekends to catch The Little Mermaid, it might be easy to feel like there's plenty of time to snag tickets, but the theater was packed for the opener and tickets are going fast. It's a show that shouldn't be missed.
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Marcus King Band
July 21 • Sweetwater Performace Pavilion