“The Little Mermaid,” a crowd-pleaser for young and old

13391417_10153615887990205_738306051408404842_oTHE LITTLE MERMAID


DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM dualcritics@comcast.net

Theatre Jacksonville and sponsor Acosta Sales & Marketing opened the final show of its 96th season on June 10th, 2016, with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” a crowd-pleaser for audiences young and old. Performances will continue through June 26th, at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. Call 904-396-4425 or visit www.theatrejax.com for additional information and reservations. Note that tickets are going fast for this colorful and delightful musical.

The original “Mermaid” was a very successful 1989 film that is still shown on television from time to time and is available at local libraries. It opened as a Broadway stage musical in 2008, and ran for 685 performances. A 2013 revival with added songs has been produced throughout the United States and internationally.

The plot is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of a headstrong mermaid. Ariel rescues Prince Eric after a boating accident, falls in love, and wishes that she could become human. Although her protective father King Triton is opposed to her leaving his realm, Ariel makes a pact with Ursula, a sea witch, a pact that may allow her to fulfill her dreams of life beyond the sea. She agrees to part with her beautiful voice in exchange for legs that will make it possible for her to walk on land, but she additionally agrees that if she has not been kissed by the Prince within three days, she will return to the sea as Ursula’s servant.

As an audience, we were treated to over twenty excellent songs which included “Under the Sea,” an Academy Award winner energetically performed by the crab Sebastian (Joshua Johnson) and the Sea Creatures. The characters are picture perfect and also have outstanding voices. Gena Heylock as Ariel brings vibrancy to her hopes for the future and her songs; we were especially impressed with “Part of Your World.” As the handsome Prince, Logan Smith was marvelous, with a performance filled with of awesome vocal and physical versatility.

13427817_10153615854665205_2486005854644716111_nRegina Torres was last seen on TJ’s stage as the witch in “Into the Woods” and is spectacular as the undersea witch Ursula. Her singing talents are in demand in both musical theatre and operatic productions. When Brian Johnson first appears on stage as King Triton, you are immediately impressed by his physical appearance, which evokes the character’s mythological origin. In the past we have seen him mainly in dramatic roles at ABET and Limelight, but here, he reveals his vocal accomplishments.

The song that was the audience favorite on opening night had the fishy title of “Les Poissons” and was sung by Chef Louis, who was portrayed by Alec Hadden as preposterously zany. In addition to his comedic skills, the role gave the talented Hadden the opportunity to show off his incredible singing voice.

Other cast members who appeared in varied roles included Oliver Rumney, Blake McClure, James Demps III, Kyle Burns, Michael Cejvanovic, Alex Aponte, Rodney Holmes, Malik Bilbrew, Joel Oliver, Jenna Bourne, Kiley Durrence, Erin Elkins, Cara Jackson, Jasmine Walters, and Elise Weinand.

The production was done on an open stage, with a couple of set pieces brought on and off. The back wall was used from ceiling to floor by Projection Engineer Kedgar Volta, and was an incredible visual delight for the audience. Scenes included multiple vistas in full color depicting the watery world of the denizens of the sea, as well as Prince Eric’s ship and the interior of the grand church where he and Ariel are married.

Costume designer Kimberly Burns and assistant designer Felicia Lawrence have created costumes with visual dazzle that are outstanding. Ms. Burns began her costuming career creating costumes for Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts. The many creations of Mickey Leger, Jacksonville’s wig master, are evident in every scene.

13427780_10153615870335205_2385691552871541431_nAs we made our way to our seats, we noted that the orchestra pit was filled with musicians, eight of them in fact, plus the musical director. Initially, we were apprehensive that such a large orchestra might overpower the singers at times. Our concerns were unwarranted as the musicians were magnificent; even the lyrics of quiet ballads were deliciously clear. Musical Director Joseph Montelione has an impressive resume that includes appearances with numerous symphonic orchestras and Broadway shows, and has also written the music for several nationally touring productions.

“Mermaid” was excellently directed and choreographed by Kevin Covert, an accomplished Broadway actor. Although he has lived in Jacksonville for only a short time, he has made a lasting impression, academically as the Theatre Department Chair at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and on-stage with two appearances at The Alhambra Theatre and Dining,” playing a remarkable Horton the elephant in “Seussical” and Mr. Panch in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

PRODUCTION TEAM: Kevin Covert (Director& Choreographer), Joseph Montelione (Musical Director), David Lynn Dawson (Scenic, Lighting Design & Technical Director), Kimberly Burns (Costume Designer), Felicia Lawrence (Assistant Costume Designer), Kevin Tyrell (Headpiece Designer), Ron Shreve ( Stage Manager & Assistant Technical Director), Kedgar Volta (Projection Engineer), AJ Diaz (Stage Manager), Audie Gibson (Light Board Operator),Mark Rubens (Sound Board Operator), Mickey Leger (Wig Designer), John Evans (Wig Assistant).

This undersea adventure is s excellent family entertainment — a true classic with a high velocity cast that you won’t want to miss.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.