Review: ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid’ Swims to the Surface at the Muny

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly states Michael Schweikardt designed Ursula’s costume. In actuality, it was designed in collaboration by Eric Wright, Puppet Kitchen Productions, Robin McGee and Schweikardt.

Take it from Sebastian, “Everything’s better down where it’s wetter.”

The Muny is currently “Under the Sea” with its second show of the 99th season: “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” Disney performances under the summer sky in Forest Park truly make the little kid in everyone come alive. With a stellar cast, stunning costumes, a colorful set, and such an amazing atmosphere, it left everyone in the audience — old and young — in bewilderment.

As soon as Ariel, played by the immensely talented Emma Degerstedt, swam onto stage, the entire place felt the siren song of a curious, young mermaid who wanted to see what more the world had to offer than being below the water. Not many people could portray Ariel like Emma, and it’s when she first sees Prince Eric, portrayed by the charming Jason Gotay, that reality sets in that it’s time for her to start her own life, even if it’s on the surface. Despite the woes of her father King Triton, played by the brilliant Jerry Dixon, Ariel just wants to experience love and dance.

The cast truly made the show a memorable experience. Little Flounder, played by Spencer Jones, won the hearts of the crowd. Ursula, played by Emily Skinner, electrified the audience with her rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Not to mention the amazing costume design for Ursula’s immense stage presence gave life to such a larger-than-life villain. The costume was designed in collaboration by Eric Wright, who conceived of the setup and trained the puppeteers; Wright’s company, Puppet Kitchen Productions, who built the tentacles; Michael Schweikardt, who refined the cart to which the performers are attached; and Robin McGee, who designed the fabric pieces and costume. Four puppeteers operate the tentacles.

To keep Triton calm and the crowd laughing, James T. Lane’s rendering of Sebastian left no one crabby but truly brought the joy of Disney to the house.

It was during “Under the Sea” that it became hard not to get up and dance. The set design, the color, the choreography, the way that every single person on stage moved together like a sea of fish and, of course, Sebastian’s quirky sense of humor made the show come to life. Watching Ariel’s child-like sense of wonder and curiosity unravel on stage was like hopping in a time machine and returning to elementary school days. Seeing Triton defend his daughter against the antagonistic Ursula and later let his daughter swim to the surface to finally speak to Ariel made the waterworks hard to hold back.

The score was directed perfectly by Charlie Alterman. The sounds brought the stage to life. With aquatic undertones, it truly felt like being a sea creature watching the story of a young mermaid unravel.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge directed this timeless piece to perfection and, with such a brilliant ensemble, its hard not to want to sing every line, laugh out loud and dance to the beat. “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” is at the Muny through June 29. V

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Caleb Mansfield

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