With its simple story and memorable tunes by celebrated songwriting duo Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” seems, despite its deep sea setting, like an ideal candidate for a stage adaptation. The Broadway hit makes its way to the Kroc Center via Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, and director Jadd Davis says it’s a technically proficient show that’s nonetheless powered by “old-fashioned, actor-driven theater magic.”
“If you’re a lover of theater in its contemporary and classic forms, it walks a nice line between being a visually sumptuous show and a piece with some substance,” Davis said.
The plot of “The Little Mermaid” is loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. The mermaid Ariel (Natalie Colvin), so curious about the world that exists beyond her underwater domicile, falls in love with the human Prince Eric (Tim Suenkel). The evil sorceress Ursula (Kate Jaeger) offers to transform Ariel’s fin into a pair of legs in exchange for Ariel’s voice.
The stage version follows the Disney film pretty closely, though Davis says that both the character of Eric and the relationship between Ariel and her father, King Triton (Brandon Michael), are further fleshed out. This may be a fairy tale, but Davis says he was aiming for realistic, relatable characters when he was casting the show.
“It’s easy to get lost in the fairy tale kingdom-ness of this story, to feel like we’re skating on top of any real depth,” he said. “I really wanted people who we could see as people.”
“The Little Mermaid” was responsible for breathing life back into the animated musical genre when it was released in 1989, garnering impressive box office receipts and netting Disney its first Oscar for a fully animated feature since 1941’s “Dumbo.” Part of its appeal, looking past such great songs as “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” is its classic structure as a star-crossed romance.
“I think any time a story deals with the concept of ‘the other,’ it’s an interesting hook,” Davis said. “At the core of ‘The Little Mermaid,’ beyond the charm of the music and characters, we have a story of two cultures learning how to relate to one another. We want to see that sense of connection, of two societies finding a common ground through the love of these characters.”
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