- OnStage New Jersey Critic
If you are in your mid twenties to thirties, and grew up on Disney movies, then one of the tent pole movies of your childhood was Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story that was produced by Howard Ashman and John Musker and brilliantly scored by Alan Menken. In 2008, Disney brought The Little Mermaid to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with Menken’s music, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater and the book written by Doug Wright. While by today’s standards it wasn’t a huge success, it was bound to be a community theatre standard when Music Theatre International released it for licensing. What I saw with the Off Broad Street Players was how I believe Disney and MTI envisioned the show when they released it.
As the show opens after the overture, we get to meet Ariel, portrayed by Victoria Mozitis. She portrays Ariel with wonderful childhood innocence and earnst that Sierra Boggess brought to the Broadway production which is because she’s only a sophomore in high school! Many times community productions done with Ariel portrayed by an adult female and sometimes that role comes off as less believable. For a teenager, the role is much more true to life and therefore the acting becomes more authentic. I believe this young woman has a bright future for herself. Playing Prince Eric is Benjamin Frost and he is a wonderful compliment to Victoria’s Ariel. Both of them express that longing for more in life than King Triton (Rocco Barbera) and Grimsby (Richard Curcio) want for them. Both Rocco and Richard play wonderful caretakers of Ariel and Eric. Rocco has a wonderful physical and acting presence as Triton but shows his range as a doting and caring father balancing parenting and ruling the seas. Richard’s Grismby balances comedy and life lessons like a TV father veteran. Domonic Barnes portrayal of Sebastian is wonderfully fun and will remind those who saw the show on Broadway as what Tituss Burgess did as the lovable crab.
Rounding out the lead cast and portraying Ursula is Toni Mayo. She brings to that role such a devious, sarcastic, and comedic nature to it that you are mesmerized by her performance. She is equal parts Eartha Kitt and Rita Moreno in this role and it is perfect. The rest of the ensemble shows so much talent and promise. There will be no shortage of future lead talent for Off Broad Street Players in the future.
The Little Mermaid production is wonderful and for you South Jersey readers (especially with children), this is a must see. If you’ve only seen the movie, then be prepared for some great additional songs that were added to the theatrical production. Adults and children will be singing (Part of Your World, Poor Unfortunate Souls, Kiss the Girl) and dancing (Under the Sea, She’s in Love, Les Poissons) in their seats, but marvel at songs not from the movie (Daddy’s Little Girl, Positoovity, If Only) and enjoy the story as it is told in a bit more depth than it takes in a movie (what did happen to Ariel’s mom?).
Director/Choreographer John Stephan smartly staged the show without it being an imitation of the movie. The show calls for a bit of Disney magic, imagination and difficult transitions which OBSP does very well. John Stephan is a wonderful director and choreographer. His choreography is quite impressive as it touches multitudes of styles, using ballet, some modern, with elements of pop/hip-hop and his signature tap. His directing/choreography reminds me of Casey Nicholaw. He work as the Cumberland Regional High School Dramatic Arts coordinator, direction of various shows in different community theatres in South Jersey have earned him a well respected reputation of getting the most out of his actors to establish his clear story telling vision. The Little Mermaid has a few really tricky parts in it: Prince Eric being thrown overboard, Ariel’s transformation come to mind right away and he pulls them off very well. His casting of the leads show his ability to recognize chemistry and gives all of them their moments that allow them to shine on the stage. The show relies a lot on the lighting and major kudos to designer Caitlin Du Bois. Her lighting designs along with John Stephan’s staging, give moments of the show “WOW” factors. Both Du Bois and Stephan are 2016 NJACT Perry Award nominees. Credit also has to be given to Erin Barbeck’s wig design as well as they are wonderful.
Overall, I can’t say enough how impressed I was with the work of the Off Broad Street Players. This might be one of the best production I have ever seen them produce and is a must see in South Jersey. What John Stephan, cast and crew have done is tell the story of Disney’s The Little Mermaid but did it without overdoing the jokes and attempting to make the show a Las Vegas spectacle. It also made my night to see OBSP’s respect of the work as it is given to them. There have been a few times I have attended other theatre productions in South Jersey where they or the directors have stepped out of bounds with their “creativity” and it was uncomfortable. The production and respect Off Broad Street showed is a model of how other companies should do it. I declare OBSP production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Levoy Theatre a summer must see!!!
3 ½ Shells out of 4
Off Broad Street Players Presents:
Disney’s The Little Mermaid
August 4-14, 2016
Friday and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm
Thursday, August 11, at 7:00pm