By SAMANTHA PIDDE
The first production of the 2019 Summer Season at Timber Lake Playhouse, “Disney's The Little Mermaid," proves once again that TLP and Disney make a fairytale combination.
"The Little Mermaid” opened Thursday, May 30, and will run for three weeks to June 16. The production combines great music, sets, costumes and acting that is expected from a TLP musical. Whether a long-time fan of the Disney-animated feature (released in 1989) or new to the story, this musical is a delight for audiences of all ages.
Resident performer Anna Catherine Smith, who portrayed Belle last year in "Beauty and the Beast," returns this year, proving she is made for Disney princess roles. Smith shines as the titular Little Mermaid, Ariel. Her beautiful voice is full of emotion during songs such as "The World Above" and "Part of Your World."
The charming Prince Eric is brought to life by resident performer Conor Jordan. The actor exudes charm and an adventurous spirit as he searches for the young lady with the voice that haunts him.
The chemistry between Jordan and Smith is wonderful, especially in the song "One Step Closer" where the audience can see Prince Eric and Ariel take a step toward love without her saying a word.
Every fairytale needs a good villain and resident performer Rachel Davenport is deliciously evil as the sea witch, Ursula. She interjects a great deal of humor and fun into this role, especially in "I want the Good Times Back" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls." While I knew I needed to root against Ursula and her evil plans, Davenport surely made it hard to do so.
Another great performance was delivered by resident performer Jean Christian Barry as the Jamaican crustacean composer, Sebastian. This little crab has a big voice. Barry does a wonderful job as the friend and chaperone of Ariel, transitioning from annoyed to truly caring for the little mermaid. His performances in "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" are phenomenal.
The show is filled with other wonderful characters, which fill out the musical. With his booming voice and large presence, guest performer (from the Actor's Equity Association) Gabriel Mudd is imposing and wonderful as king of the sea and Ariel's father, King Triton. He and Smith play off each other well as father and daughter.
Resident performer Logan Dolence is over the top (in the best way) as Ariel's crazy seagull friend, Scuttle. Ariel's cute, but awkward friend Flounder is portrayed wonderfully by resident performer Morgan Arrivillaga.
Resident performers Ben Dow and Rory Schrobilgen are wonderfully creepy as Ursula's electric eel minions, Flotsem and Jetsom. The two of them bring these disturbing eels to life with both their speech and their body movements.
Prince Eric's dutiful guardian, Grimsby, is brought to life well by resident performer Blake West. West does a great job bringing a bit of humor to the stuffy character, while showing both his exasperation and affection for the prince.
The wonderfully over-the-top and cartoonish character of Chef Louis is brought to life impeccably by resident performer James Tweedale. His song "Les Poissons" and his following chase of Sebastian is hilarious.
The rest of the impressive cast includes resident performers Olivia Belfie as Andrina and ensemble; Evan Bertram as Allana and ensemble; Emma Buchanan as Atina and ensemble; Meghan Corbett as Adella and ensemble; Bailee Fyock as ensemble; Rebecca Marowitz as Arista and ensemble; Dalton Mathis as a puppeteer and ensemble; Michel Vasquez as Aquata and ensemble.
In addition to the superb acting, one of the best aspects of the production is the music. Fans of the animated movie will recognize songs like "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl" and more. However, the stage production includes a great deal of new songs, such as "If Only" and its reprises, "Positoovity," "Her Voice," "Beyond My Wildest Dreams" and more.
The outstanding music would not be possible without the orchestra, directed conducted by Michael McBride. Orchestra members include McBride on keyboard one; Deanna Deal on keyboard four; Grace Shelly on drums and percussion; Deb Johnson on bass; Denise Deter on reed one; Alyssa Smith on reed three; Jacy Ripley on trumpet (flugelhorn).
TLP Artistic Director Paul Stancato does an excellent job as director and choreographer for "The Little Mermaid." The actor's every movements are used to show whether they are above or below the water's surface. Actors, such as Smith (Ariel), can be seen swaying and moving slightly- as if with an invisible current- while "under the water." The use of wires also is utilized to show characters swimming through or emerging from the water. Performer flying effects were created by Vertigo.
Scenic Director David Goldstein and Props Designer Mitchell Snow both do a fantastic of bringing The Little Mermaid's world to life. Most of the set and props were uniquely crafted from recycled material, such as coral set walls made from plastic bottles and bubble-wrap bath bubbles for Ariel's bath.
Costume Designer Zandra Siple and her department made each and every costume themselves. And boy, does it show. Whether a multi-tentacled costume for Ursula or simply a variety of brightly-colored fish costumes, these costumes popped.
The production would not have been possible without the hard work of: Assistant Choreographer Olivia Belfie, Lighting Designer Joe Cantalupo, Wig and Make-up Designer Jasmine Elam, Sound Designer Kristina Parker, Technical Director Addison Calvin, Production Stage Manager Laura Krouch and crews.
No matter what age, TLP's "The Little Mermaid" is an experience everyone should be "part of."
"The little Mermaid" is showing at the playhouse in rural Mount Carroll through Sunday, June 16. Tickets are available online at timberlakeplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 815-244-2035. The box office is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday.