By Heidi Sutton
This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, The Little Mermaid Jr.
From the moment you step into the historic theater you know you are in for a real treat. Decorated with shells and coral, the lobby beckons visitors to an afternoon of live theater as little Ariels and fellow princesses make their way to their seats. The set is equally impressive, with long blue panels affixed with coral and netting representing the kingdom of Atlantica. Once the show begins, every flawless scene delights with wonderful acting, singing and dancing by a cast of 20 young budding actors. Sitting in the balcony, I kept thinking how this could easily be a main stage production.
With music by Alan Menken, book by Doug Wright and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, the show, which opened last Saturday afternoon, begins with the seafaring number “Fathoms Below” and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the very end.
Directed and choreographed by Ryan Nolin, with musical direction by Robbie Torres, 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. But things do not go as planned.
Dori Ahlgrim is perfectly cast as the free spirited Ariel. With a beautiful singing voice, her solo, “Part of Your World” brings the house down. As Prince Eric, Brody Hampson holds his own with the endearing number “One Step Closer” where he teaches a mute Ariel how to dance.
Molly Sanges is wonderful as Ariel’s best friend Flounder and Gianna Oppedisano is a delightful Scuttle in “Human Stuff.”
Special mention must also be made of Derek Hough as the crabby crustacean Sebastian who shines in the big dance numbers “Under the Sea” with mermaids and jellyfish and “Kiss the Girl” in a race against time as the sun goes down.
Other standout performances include Jenna Hammelman as the heartless Ursula who belts out a superb rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and Gabby Blum and Kieran Brown as the slippery slithering electric eels Jetsam and Flotsam who show up when least expected to create havoc. In the second act, Luke Hampson, French accent and all, gives a hilarious performance as Chef Louis in “Les Poissons.”
Costumes by Liz Honig are on point, from the black and white sailors costumes to the bright, bold and sparkly mermaid outfits. The set, along with King Triton’s kingdom, switches flawlessly from Ariel’s grotto to Ursula’s lair to Prince Eric’s castle. Kudos to the set production team. As an added bonus, a large screen in the background changes with the scenery and adds a third dimension to the story.
Members of the cast will stay after the show for photos and shell wands and tiaras are sold in the lobby. Proceeds from the merchandise will benefit the restoration of the historic theater.
The Cast: Brody Hampson, Ari Spiegel, Ryan Romanelli, Derek Hough, Marilena Castoro, Selin Kazdal, Hannah Waller, Alia Romanelli, Emmerson Lebrecht, Nicole Sasbon, Molly Sanges, Dori Ahlgrim, Gianna Oppedisano, Gabby Blum, Kieran Brown, Jenna Hammelman, Luke Hampson, Allison Heidrich, Michael Gualtieri and Alexa Oliveto
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. through July 24. Costumes are encouraged. Running time is one hour and 30 minutes. Tickets are $25 per person. For more information or to order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.