From the Wonderful World of Walt Disney have come stories to delight all ages, primarily in animation.
Most recently, the enchanted drawings have taken solid form as theatrical musicals, coming to life yet again but with live actors rather than cartoon figures telling the stories.
The most popular of these have been “The Lion King,” “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” The last, based on the 1837 tale by Hans Christian Anderson and the 1989 Disney cartoon, received its area premiere Wednesday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Center.
If you think the transition from animated film to live action was disappointing, just ask any one of the SRO audience members. From toddlers to senior citizens, they were captivated by the sparkling undersea world of Ariel (Audrey Kennedy), youngest of King Triton’s (Danny Burgos) seven daughters, and her friends Scuttle (Keaton Eckhoff), a gossipy seagull, and Flounder (Parker Irwin), an adorable finny fish.
Along with Sebastian (George Vickers V), a crimson crustacean, they try to keep Ariel from following her heart to terra firma and human Prince Eric (Angel Lozada), whose life she saved in a savage storm.
Forbidden by Triton from human contact, Ariel listens to the whispers — make that hisses — of Flotsam (Nick Pelaccio) and Jetsam (Alex Dorf), electric eels serving Triton’s evil sister, Ursula (Kristen Yanenchak), the sea witch. Ursula envies Ariel’s magical voice and plots to regain all of Triton’s kingdom.
To this end, she strikes a deal with the lovestruck mermaid and . . . . but this is a fairy tale and, in spite of Anderson’s original ending, in the Disney version everyone winds up smiling. And, of course, singing.
I don’t like to keep saying that director/choreographer Scott Michaels has done it again, but this time, he has more than done it, creating a truly enchanted kingdom where mermaid princesses sing and dance in sparkling sequins (thanks to costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck!), a sailing vessel cracks in a thunderous storm, and all manner of sea creatures swirl, crawl and “swim” “Under the Sea.”
As usual, the ensemble dance numbers are dazzling and the 2015 company seems overloaded with talent! Kennedy, about to enter her sophomore year in college, has a clear, strong voice (singing “Part of Your World” while “swimming” in a harness over the stage — Do Not Try This At Home!) and a completely winning personality. She is the center of this world and carries the leading role with charm and talent.
As all Disney heroes, Lozada is required to look regal and sing well, completing both assignments more than satisfactorily.
It is obvious that Yasenchak revels in being the really bad girl, plotting deliciously with her eels, gloating at her moment of triumph and disappearing with amphibian fury when “Daddy’s Little Angel” finally has the upper fin.
There is no doubt, however, that the sea creatures, good and bad, are audience favorites. Vickers & Co. deliver genuine show stoppers in both “Under the Sea” and “Kiss The Girl” with amazing costumes, lighting, choreography and aerial acrobatics. The eels are fascinatingly sinister and Irwin (12) displays the stage presence of an actor twice his age.
Have to mention Asher Dubin who cuts quite a swath (literally) in his one scene as Chef Louis, frantically determined to serve Sebastian as an entrée.
Thomas N. Sterling conducts the excellent 13 piece orchestra which, on opening night, was silenced briefly by an electrical outage.
It is a tribute to the magic of this “Mermaid” that the entire audience remained seated — and quiet— as Michaels and the technical crew worked quickly to restore power to the orchestra pit.
I could go on but, unfortunately, it’s really not fair. Few if any seats remain for the rest of the run. But it never hurts to try.
“THE LITTLE MERMAID” plays through June 13 in the center at 2517 E. Center St. Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com