While most people associate Friday the 13th with ‘bad luck’, Birdie Productions certainly does not, with the opening night of their newest musical, The Little Mermaid, landing on this date.
I had the pleasure of attending opening night; an evening full of laughing children and adults chattering around the main lobby of the Bryan Brown Theatre in Bankstown, NSW. The usual red carpet was swapped for a blue one, to emulate the sea. I decided to wear this Halter Blush Pink Dress from Fine Line Fashion because I kind of felt like a Jellyfish! How appropriate!
Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner, Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including Under the Sea, Kiss the Girl and Part of Your World. Ariel (Jaime Hadwen), King Triton’s youngest daughter, wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric (TomRagen) in the world above, bargaining with the evil sea witch, Ursula (MicheleLansdown), to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the Fish (KaiLloyd–Jones), Scuttle the Seagull (Jonathan Nash–Daly) and Sebastian the Crab (JulianKuo) to restore order under the sea.
Elle Zattera’s production of the Disney cult classic is reminiscent of the original movie, with it’s own special perks. She has been able to not only bring the animated film to life, but to also find jokes that we may have missed when watching the film. As the show does dictate it’s plot line from the original film, with a few adjustments to make it work on stage, Zattera has brought that joy and excitement that both the children of the 1990s and now feel when watching the movie, to life.
The show’s title character, Ariel, is played by Jaime Hadwen. Not a stranger to the pantomime, she has played Cinderella and Tinkerbell (Peter Pan) for two of Bonnie Lythgoe’s Pantomimes. Her experience in this style of theatre is evident in this role. She is able to bring that youthful spirit that we all know and love from Ariel. Her singing voice sceams “Disney Princess”, although there would be times when her tone would change from ‘young and sweet’ to ‘full and mature’ and back again. She brings her energy into the dance portions of the role, and not only dances through them well, but also brings a comedic element to them – tripping over in ‘Positoovity’ and large, grand gestures in One Step Closer.
Her Prince Eric, Tom Ragen, steps into the role well. His love for the open sea is perfectly captured right on his face. His previous experience as a performer on cruise lines has helped him be able to picture the sea while on stage at the Bryan Brown Theatre. I would have loved to have seen a touch more energy during the “in castle” scenes during the show. Ragen has wonderful control of his voice, being able to hold long notes without any faltering (especially heard in If Only Quartet). He is able to lead a waltz with ease, with a good frame in his arms.
I have to say, Michele Lansdown’s Ursula steals the show. In my notes, I literally have written “Michele Lansdown is everything.” Not only does she have the vocal chops to nail ‘Daddy’s Little Angel’ and ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, but she’s bloody hilarious. She lands every joke that is delivered on stage, and they’re each done in a different way that sometimes you don’t know it’s coming and it takes you by surprise. This makes all the jokes so effective for the audience! There was a solid minute and a half of the audience laughing and applauding her midway through a line. Anytime Lansdown would walk on stage, she commanded it.
For someone who doesn’t have any Jamaican heritage, JulianKuo does a great job at playing Sebastian the Crab. His physical mannerism of walking with tiny strides would be similar to a real crab walking along the sea floor. His singing of Sebastian’s two classic songs brought a smile to my face, and his ability to go right into falsetto right after a giant dance break during ‘Under the Sea’ is a true testament to his stamina and control (something I’m currently working on for the show I’m doing). I applaud him for that, because that dance break was not easy, and he was able to execute it with a poise that Sebastian would have. He was definitely a crowd favourite, with many of the children in the audience laughing to several of his lines in the show.
Young Flounder, played by KaiLloyd–Jones, was absolutely adorable. He glided on stage with ease (thanks to his Heelies… how I miss my Heelies) and brought the guppy to life. I hadn’t even thought of the storyline of Flounder having a crush on Ariel, but it was super cute and you could definitely hear some “awwww” s from the audience when ever Lloyd-Jones would deliver a line. His singing is that perfect sound of a teen pop voice, and his American accent is FLAWLESS for someone so young! The ending of ‘She’s in Love’, where Flounder sings right into his higher register, was missing on Opening Night. While I was a little upset about the vocal variation there (because it rounds out the sound), I can understand it for someone of Lloyd-Jones’ age.
Ariels’ Mersisters (played by Rebecca Campbell, Vanessa Agius, Stephanie Josifovski, Caitlin Watson, Jessica Iuliano and Kate Xouris) are a tricky group to play. They each need to have that sisterly bond with one another; loving each other one minute but then bickering the next. Each were able to showcase their own personalities on stage, and their singing as a sextet was beautiful. There were some accent drops at times during the singing which would sometimes show some inconsistencies within the six women, but all up they sounded and acted like true sisters.
The featured cast members definitely worked their magic on stage. Those featured were:
- Cooper Dallimore & Adam Cameron (Flotsam and Jetsam) : These boys were able to bring the right kind of physicality to Ursula’s two eels; constant bodyrolls! There was a lack of balance in the voices blending together during ‘Sweet Child’, where Dallimore’s falsetto just wasn’t as strong as Cameron’s lower baritone range.
- Andrew Symes (King Triton) : His love for his daughter is clearly seen, despite having most of his face covered up in a beard. His singing assisted in the conflict between himself and Ariel, but I would have loved to see a less stiff King; more anger when trying to destroy Ariel’s cave and heartbreak during ‘If Only’.
- Jim Burns (Grimsby) : Grimsby was always a funny character, and Burns brought a sweet and loving side to Grimsby that I never really saw in the movie.
- Jonathan Nash-Daly (Scuttle) : Nash-Daly’s Scuttle was a delight. Even though he emulates the accent of the animated seagull, he isn’t creating a copy of him. There’s a naivety in Scuttle that is so refreshing to watch. His tapping in ‘Positoovity’ is outstanding and definitely a highlight scene. My favourite moment of Scuttle, however, is his solo wail in ‘Kiss The Girl’, which was not missed in the stage production and it made me very happy.
- Dave Collins (Chef Louis) : I mean, this was a ridiculous performance… in the best way. The minute Collins stepped foot on stage as the Chef, there was laughter from the audience. His light and shade created with his voice was a huge change from the movie version of ‘Les Poisson’ and it was absolutely histerical. One moment, he’s singing beautifully and the next he’s yelling at the top of his lungs about chopping off the head of a fish. This was another highlight scene of the show.
While the ensemble was not big, they were able to become several different characters; fellow sea animals, maids, and sailors. They were also used to create both the storm that creates Ariel and Eric’s first meeting and the magic that gives Ariel her legs (that isn’t a spoiler, don’t freak out!). Everyone works together as a team and helps shape the rest of the show to become the powerhouse it is.
The ensemble is shaped by the choreography of Craig Nhobbs. He is able to create physical movements that emulate the movement of the water, and dynamic dance breaks that command attention. ‘Under the Sea’ is the biggest dance number of the show, withgreat movement from all sea creatures featured. There’s a tiny reference to A Chorus Line within his choreography, which made me laugh (I love a good shout out/reference to other shows within a show).
The team of Joshua Ransom and Antonio Fernandez have brought Alan Menken &Howard Ashman’s music to life. They have brought together an orchestra that knows exactly how to perfectly play Disney soundtracks that make audiences who grew up with those soundtracks absolutely melt. Their expert ears have been able to craft the cast to sing in perfect harmony with one another.
The set for The Little Mermaid was something that I had not ever seen before. Because of the show’s link to the classic Disney movie, there was an expectation of how the set would look. When the stage lights first come up, at first, you think that there’s stills from the movie storyboards being used as backdrops for the show, but upon closer look, it’s actually custom made animations for the show. Animator, and Bankstown local, Isabella Spagnolo has created some amazing work that sets a new standard for shows that are centred around animation. Her style is exactly that of the original movie, and you can see all the hard work that has been put into every single frame. Jordan Vassallo‘s set pieces balance out the rest of the stage. Ariel’s Tavern shows a tiny part of what would be a much bigger area under the sea, including pieces of her collection of human items.
Brooke Almond‘s stage management is what helps the show run smoothly. While there were some mishaps with moving the ship at the beginning of the show, each other set piece was moved with ease and the show would keep moving on. Some mics did drop out and there were some lighting cues that did need some readjusting, but as a stage manager on crutches, she did a damn good job.
The costuming on this show is pretty crazy; not only does it have to have similarities to the movie, but it also has to have it’s own life. Rachael Adams has done an incredible job doing the costumes for this show. I would have liked shinier tails to emulate the reflection of the water on their scales, for one woman making all of those costumes, you’ve gotta give props to her!
I can’t get enough of the hair and makeup in this show; the genius of Ellie May Mansfield’s hair and makeup design is out of this world. The wigs, most of them lacefronts, were unclockable. The red wig given used to create Ariel’s signature red hair was a deeper red, and looked more realistic than a bright red would have on stage. Her styling of the Ursula wig looked like it took a lot of hard work, as well as the makeup job for her too! Creating those contours to make Lansdown look like the scary sea witch looked great, thanks to makeup team Tahni Brooks and Reiko Vassie.
I was happy to be a part of the audience of the opening night of The Little Mermaid, and getting to see the joy on the faces of the children in the audience put a smile on my face. If you love this classic Disney movie, you should see this show.
I give this show 4/5 stars.
THE LITTLE MERMAID (BIRDIE PRODUCTIONS) – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 22 April 2018
Tickets: $22.50 – 42.50
On sale now from : https://www.birdieproductions.com.au
Have you seen this awesomely nostalgic show? Let me know in the comments below! 👇🏼