By Heidi Sutton
The John W. Engeman Theater celebrates the return of children’s theater with a production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr., an abbreviated version of the 1989 animated classic based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. With music by Alan Menken, book by Doug Wright and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, the show, which opened last Saturday morning, begins with the seafaring number “Fathoms Below” and never loses its momentum.
Directed by Steven Dean Moore, with musical direction by Nicki Winzelberg and choreography by Becky Grace Kalman, the story centers around Princess Ariel, the youngest mermaid daughter of King Triton, who is obsessed with the world above and longs to trade in her fish tail for a pair of legs, much to the dismay of her father.
When she falls in love with Prince Eric, Ariel strikes a bargain with her aunt, the evil sea witch Ursula, to become human. There is a catch however — Ariel must give up her voice and Eric must fall in love with her in three days or she will lose her soul forever. With the help of her best friend Flounder, the court composer Sebastian the crab, and a seagull named Scuttle, Ariel sets off to follow her heart. Will love conquer all or will revenge strike it down?
Katie Dolce is perfectly cast as the strong-willed Ariel and her solo, “Part of Your World,” is breathtaking. She shares a nice chemistry with Matthew Rafanelli, her charming Prince Eric, who holds his own with “One Step Closer” where he teaches a mute Ariel how to dance in one of the most endearing moments in the show.
In his debut at the Engeman, T. Ramsey Pack is incredible as Sebastian. With a spot on Jamaican accent, a calming presence, and flawless comedic timing, Pack is the perfect crabby crustacean tasked with keeping an eye on Ariel and pulls off the show’s two most elaborate numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” with ease. He even walks like a crab!
Jae Hughes lends her amazing talents to the role of Scuttle and shines in the tap-dancing number “Human Stuff” as she teaches Ariel all about dinglehoppers, thingamajigs and snarfblatts, la-di-da! And AnnaBelle Deaner, as bestie Flounder, is in perfect harmony with Ariel’s sisters — Allana (Ella Piscatello), Aquata (Angelina Miller), Atina (Elizabeth Dolce), Adella (Amelia Freiberger), Arista (Jenna Hammelman) and Andrina (Meaghan McInnes) — in “She’s in Love.”
The role of Ursula is shared by Jennifer Collester and Samantha Carroll. During Saturday’s show, Collester gave a powerful performance of the villainous sea witch — her version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” will give you chills. And Suzanne Mason and Ryan McInnes are downright creepy as the slithering moray eel minions Flostam and Jetsam. Great job!
One of the most entertaining scenes of the show takes place in the palace kitchen with Chef Louis. Elizabeth Dolce takes this delicious role and runs with it, literally, as she attempts to serve Sebastian for dinner. Her version of “Les Poissons,” complete with a French accent and a chase scene, is hilarious!
Supporting cast members also include Justin Autz as Prince Eric’s confidant Grimsby, always by his side; Moore Theobald as the head sailor on Prince Eric’s ship; and Logan Dolence as King Triton, a protective and loving father.
As an added bonus, a large screen in the background changes with the scenery (the deck of a ship, Ariel’s grotto, the beach, the castle, etc) and shows scenes from the movie which are hard to replicate on stage including when Ariel saves Prince Eric from drowning and when Ariel gives her voice to Ursula. A nice touch.
The incredibly beautiful costumes by Laura McGauley, from the colorful merfolk outfits and wigs, royal palace garbs, Scuttle’s feathers, Ursula’s tentacles, and iridescent eel puppets are the icing on the cake.
The cast and creative team have composed a wonderful morning of live theater. Don’t miss this one!
The John W, Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 22. The Disney theme continues with Beauty & the Beast Jr. from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31. All seats are $20. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.
All photos by Corinne Wight