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Friday, December 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Theater review: Strong performances keep ‘Little Mermaid’ afloat

People who really love the animated Disney film “The Little Mermaid” will find a lot to like in Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production of the stage musical.

There are some ridiculously talented performers on the stage, lending their pipes to some catchy songs, including the beloved tunes “Kiss the Girl,” “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World.” There are talking fish of several varieties, a single-minded French chef, love at first sight and a dastardly villain.

The highlights of the movie are all there: The mermaid Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, falls for a human, Prince Eric, and in order to be with him makes a deal with the devilish sea witch Ursula, giving up her voice in exchange for a pair of legs.

As for those who don’t really know “The Little Mermaid,” they might spend the show confused. What are those dancers supposed to be dressed as? Kelp? Why do the suction cups on Ursula’s tentacles look like baby bottle nipples? Why do the white seagulls have yellow tail feathers? Why is the tallest actor onstage (Joshua Lloyd-Patrick) playing the smallest character, Sebastian the crab?

And as I wrote in all capital letters in my notebook during Act II of Thursday’s opening night performance, WHY IS ARIEL SINGING after giving her voice to Ursula? And why does she sing NOT ONCE, but TWICE?

Logically, I know why: Because you can’t have the title character of a musical stand mute for half the show. But that doesn’t change the fact that having her on the stage singing doesn’t work from a narrative standpoint, even if she is “singing” her internal dialogue. (Don’t get me started on when she “sings” in her head with three other people. It’s just silly.)

It’s a good thing, at least, that CST’s Ariel, Natalie Colvin, has a lovely voice and an engaging stage presence. Actually, this production is filled with lovely voices. Banbury brings energy and a well-trained baritone to “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Tim Suenkel as Prince Eric is utterly charming and wonderful singing “Her Voice.” As Triton, Brandon Michael displays real emotion and depth – and a powerful voice – in “If Only.” And as Ursula, Kate Jaeger has a lot of fun with “Daddy’s Little Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

The supporting roles are filled with talented performers as well – Henry McNulty, Aubrey Shimek Davis, Krista Curry, Jorie Jones, Alex Carey and Angela Pierson among them. And it’s always good to see Lanz Babbitt on a stage. He plays Eric’s guardian, Grimsby, with just the right combination of sincerity, silliness and camp.

Shawn Michael Hunt gives a standout performance as Scuttle the seagull. With his big, dark-framed glasses, Hunt seemed less to be channeling Buddy Hackett (who voiced Scuttle in the movie) and more Charles Nelson Reilly, to great effect.

Jeff Sanders, who teaches theater at Eastern Washington University, very nearly ran away with the show with his hilariously over-the-top performance as Chef Louis, who spends an entire scene chopping up fish before turning his attention to poor, frightened Sebastian. Between Sanders’ outrageous French accent and Lloyd-Patrick’s exaggerated facial expressions, the scene was a real highlight.

The same can’t be said of “Under the Sea,” which is the big production number that closes out Act I. Despite Lloyd-Patrick’s vocal skills, and the talented ensemble behind him, the number itself came off as a little chaotic. I didn’t really know where to look at any given time, and I was distracted by a number of strange costumes. My 12-year-old leaned over and asked what the performer dressed in orange was supposed to be. I still have no idea. There were some issues with the aerial portion of the number as well, but I’ll chalk those up to opening night glitches.

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