- Associate Toronto Theatre Critic
More details are available at https://capitoltheatre.com/.Although the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale was first published nearly 200 years ago, the version of the Little Mermaid that most people have ingrained in their minds is that of the hugely successful Disney animated film that started the Disney Renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s. The version of The Little Mermaid that is now being produced by the Port Hope Theatre Festival at the beautiful Cameco Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope, Ontario, is the Disney telling, which was adapted for the stage and made its Broadway debut in 2008.
The Capitol was originally built as a movie theatre, and director Antonio Sarmiento has taken full advantage of this non-traditional stage space by using the screen, the walls, and the ceiling to project imagery. This allows him to make wonderful atmospheric effects, like creating the illusion that the audience is underwater, and gives him more freedom in staging hard-to-visualize moments like the shipwreck scene. The rotating set pieces were used cleverly through a combination of placement on the stage, projected imagery, and physical props to change the scene from a ship at sea, to a lush palace, and even to an underwater world.
Joe Pagnan’s brilliant lighting design really brought the sense of an undersea world fully to life, managing to create a very different mood between the cool, lively undersea world and the bright, luxurious surroundings of Eric’s palatial home, and even managing to contrast the warm, welcoming palace of King Triton, and the cold, forbidding recesses of Ursula’s lair.
Miranda Vanlogerenberg's costumes filled the stage with bright, shiny materials and colours, masterfully morphing these human performers into the denizens of the sea. Kudos to Ms. Vanlogerenberg for creatively hiding the legs of the actors whose characters had fishtails.
Choreographer Stephan Dickson managed to weave the dancing into the performances so smoothly that it never felt tacked on, and the proper dance numbers were so tight and filled with great moves that they were mesmerizing.
Even technical wizardry can’t hold up a musical production without solid performances. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of them on display here. In fact, every performer — from the leads to the ensemble — is top-notch. There was not a weak performance — singing, dancing, or acting — in this cast. Jennifer Gillis as title character, Ariel, exudes the very essence of youthful exuberance and young love, matched with a soaring, powerful, heartfelt voice that filled the theatre with so much positive energy in songs like “If Only” and “Part of Your World”. Colin Sheen’s Prince Eric is warm and charming and doesn’t come off as a typical Disney prince — which works well with the fact that the character just wants a normal life. Michelle E. White nails the hilariously over-the-top exasperation of the musical crab Sebastian — especially in the “Les Poissons” reprise, where she outsmarts the human chefs. Joel Cumber as Ariel’s fish friend, Flounder, and Taylor Lavigne as Scuttle the seagull mine great laughs from the audience — particularly the younger members — with their hilarious performances and dance numbers. Kent Sheridan gave Ariel’s father, King Triton, a sense of real strength and presence tempered by the care and love he shows his daughters, and David Leyshon gave a wonderfully stuffy yet caring sensibility to his performance of Prince Eric’s caretaker, Grimsby.
For everyone who has ever thought that playing the villain is no fun, I give you Nick Settimi. His performance as Ursula the sea witch is, in a word, fantastic. The vamping, the strutting, the sinister belly laughs — it was marvelous. Even the children, who tend to be afraid of villains at family musicals like this, were clearly enjoying Mr. Settimi’s Ursula.
If an afternoon or evening of musical enchantment is what you’re after, then set sail for the beautiful Cameco Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope and check out Port Hope Theatre Festival’s wonderful production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. As this reviewer’s eight-year-old son proclaimed, “It was great! The people who made this show faced a real challenge with making people look like mermaids and fish — and they handled it very well.”
Photo of Jennifer Gillis provided by Alana Lee.
The show is being staged until September 9th, 2018 at the beautiful Cameco Capitol Arts Centre, 20 Queen St., Port Hope.
Evening performances are at 8:00 pm and matinees are at 2:00 pm.
The show is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 20-minute intermission