NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Disney’s uneven procession of theatrical adaptations of its beloved film properties hits a sour note with this charmless rendition of its smash 1989 animated film. Especially disappointing coming after the recent superb version of “Mary Poppins,” “The Little Mermaid” should manage to attract its target audience through its title alone, but longtime hit status seems far from assured.
With its hiring of famed opera director Francesca Zambello, making her Broadway debut, Disney clearly was hoping that “Lion King”-style lightning would strike twice. But unlike Julie Taymor’s brilliant staging for that landmark production, this production is visually unappealing and often murky in its execution.
Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright’s book follows the movie’s plot line and characters closely but lacks any real distinction of its own. The new songs, by original composer Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, are for the most part unmemorable. Far worse, even such classics as “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” (both featuring wonderful lyrics by the late Howard Ashman) are delivered here in fussily staged renditions that fail to come close to the film’s originals.
The comely Sierra Boggess and the handsome Sean Palmer well fulfill the vocal and physical requirements of their roles as the mermaid Ariel and Prince Eric, even though it’s hard not to compare them unfavorably with the satirical take-offs on such iconic characters in the current film “Enchanted.” While there are plenty of Broadway stage veterans onstage, most of them are either underused (Norm Lewis’ ab-baring King Triton and Eddie Korbich’s tap-dancing seagull); overly familiar in their shtick (John Treacy Egan’s stereotypical French chef); or simply underwhelming (Tituss Burgess’ uncharismatic Sebastian the crab). Only Sherie Rene Scott’s broadly entertaining (and vividly costumed) turn as the sea witch Ursula manages to stand out amid the noisy proceedings.
The endlessly busy staging, which uses various effects (skating, wires, etc.) to convey the underwater interactions of the fishy characters, is too often confusing in its delineation of the various locales.
Most egregious is the production’s visual conception, with Tatiana Noginova’s over-the-top costumes and George Tsypin’s stylized set designs more often than not simply ugly to look at. The latter, using large amounts of Plexiglas and some bizarre, giant corkscrew-like sculptures to convey the sun, moon and I don’t know what, seems more suited for an avant-garde opera by Philip Glass than a would-be charming confection for family audiences.
Ariel: Sierra Boggess
Ursula: Sherie Rene Scott
Prince Eric: Sean Palmer
King Triton: Norm Lewis
Sebastian: Tituss Burgess
Scuttle: Eddie Korbich
Grimsby: Jonathan Freeman
Jetsam: Derrick Baskin
Flotsam: Tyler Maynard
Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater; Book: Doug Wright; Director: Francesca Zambello; Choreographer: Stephen Mear; Set designer: George Tsypin; Costume designer: Tatiana Noginova; Lighting designer: Natasha Katz.