|The cast of "The Little Mermaid" playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre|
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Holy Mackerel! With the arrival
of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at
Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, it is tempting to bombard this review
with a school of fish puns. But if you
think I am going to take the bait, well, you are floundering up the wrong
I don’t mean to carp on this but
there are enough fishy lines dropped throughout the show that with any more
from me and you’d be up to your gills in them, wind up with a haddock, and
eventually tuna me out.
Not to go overboard, but under
the superb direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick,
the perfectly cast, impeccably staged, ultra-colorful, splashy production that
kicks off a promising 2018-19 Season reels in a great catch with this
presentation of The Little Mermaid. #hocoarts
one of Hans
Christian Andersen’s most adored stories
and the 1989
classic animated film, it was no
fluke that Disney’s The Little Mermaid netted two Tony Award nominations
in 2008. It features music by eight-time
Academy Award winner,
Alan Menken, lyrics
by Howard Ashman
and Glenn Slater
and a book
by Doug Wright.
It conveys the fairytale love
story of a beautiful young mermaid (Ariel) who at first is infatuated with
“human things” like a fork and other items discarded at sea and falling to the
ocean floor where she resides and then infatuated by a human being—a handsome
prince (Eric) who is on a boat at sea. Prince Eric hears her lovely voice and
he, too, becomes spellbound.
What then transpires and how
they ultimately hook up (oh, dear!) is the essence of the plot and is a joy to
Toby’s imaginative artistic team
originally wanted to fill the theater with water up to the ceiling so that all
the aquatic characters in the show can move about freely in their natural
habitat. But with the luscious food at the buffet (seafood and all) getting soggy,
the audience drenched if not drowning, and the cast with their mic’s affixed to
them getting electrocuted, the show’s run would be limited to one performance,
|Abby Middleton, Jeffrey Shankle and Jacob Hale |
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Rather, a more conventional
approach was adopted and it worked magic.
Costumes by A.T. Jones & Sons are magnificent and colorful beyond
belief. The aquatic characters including a variety of sea life, such as a
flounder, a crab, a couple of eels, other fishes, a flock of seagulls and, of
course, a bevy of mermaids replete with extended tails are decked out in
creative attire that are sure to please the young children (and adults)
attending the show.
The costumes for the sailors
above the surface, King Triton, the villainess sea witch Ursula, and the
ensemble are similarly outstanding, lavish, intricate and creative.
Another triumph is David A.
Hopkins’ vividly chromatic lighting design, which is clearly worthy of a Helen
Hayes Award nomination. The spectacular mixing of hues with a blue-green accent
to depict the underwater action is first rate.
Mr. Hopkins employs four spotlights from above with each casting
simulated sun rays peering down from the sky through the depths of the sea. It
is a gorgeous touch.
Mr. Minnick’s choreography is detailed
and fluid working the in-the-round stage to near perfection.
Grouper, I mean group numbers, such as “Daughters
of Triton,” the clever “Positoovity,” the hilarious “Les Poissons,” “She’s in
Love” and the show stopper “Under the Sea” are expertly performed. This is no small achievement given the bulky
costumes worn by the cast members, and the precise execution avoids collisions.
More top notch choreography is
on display in “Sweet Child” and “Daddy’s Little Angel.” Here, two green-clad
eels, Flotsam (Taylor Witt) and Jetsam (Joey Ellinghaus) who are loyal subordinates
of the sea witch Ursula perform while on rollerblades. Using synchronized strides and shifting upper
body movements, both gracefully and deliberately slither around the stage in artistic,
|The cast is 'Under the Sea' Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography|
Alan Menken’s score is melodic and delivered
exceptionally by Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings and his 6-piece orchestra—even
without a bass.
Abby Middleton as Ariel, the youngest
mermaid daughter of King Triton (Russell Sunday), the ruler of an undersea
country, does a laudable job in conveying her yearning for Prince Eric. Possessing
a sweet melodic soprano voice, Ms. Middleton excels in one of the show’s
popular songs “Part of Your World” and in other solos like “The World Above” and
Her onstage chemistry with
Russell Sunday as her father and Justin Calhoun as Prince Eric offers
believability to this make believe tale.
Ariel’s love interest, dashing
Prince Eric is played outstandingly by Justin Calhoun. I am pleased to see Mr. Calhoun in a leading
role whereby he can showcase his pitch-perfect tenor voice. His convincing swashbuckling demeanor throughout
the production exhibits his fine acting skills as well.
Mr. Calhoun’s romantic solo
ballad “Her Voice” and his duet with Ms. Middleton in “One Step Closer” are beautifully
Mr. Sunday hits the mark as the
widowed King Triton, the strict but caring father of his youngest daughter Ariel.
Attired in a nautically-themed lavish costume including a wild, eye-catching
crown, the King opposes Ariel’s ascent to the surface and her collection of
human things as he views all humans as fish-eating threats to his undersea
Commanding on stage, Mr. Sunday’s
muscular baritone is displayed in “If Only (Triton’s Lament)” and later he is
featured in a quartet with Mr. Calhoun, Ms. Middleton and DeCarlo Raspberry as
Sebastian in “If Only (Quartet”).
Mr. Raspberry as Sebastian, a
crab, is comical and campy. A veritable scene-stealer, Sebastian is a servant of
King Triton and is assigned to watch over Ariel and helps Ariel charm Prince
Eric. His spot-on tenor is evident in
group numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.”
The aforementioned evil Ursula
is played mischievously by Lynn Sharp Spears (a great name for the theme of
this musical). She lures Ariel into
trading her beautiful voice for legs so she can rise to the surface and reel in
Prince Eric. Ms. Spears effectively delivers the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls”
and the reprise of that number towards the end in a dramatic, action-packed
|Justin Calhoun and Abby Middleton Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography|
Jeffrey Shankle as Scuttle, a gull,
does his usual strong performance in this comic role. Scuttle can’t quite get
his facts or his words quite right but Mr. Shankle sings well in the group
number “Positoovity” and again in “Positaggity.”
The always fun David James
portrays Grimsby, a loyalist to Eric. His mission is to see that Eric fulfills
a promise made to his deceased father—a king—that he will marry a princess. Mr.
James performs admirably in the group numbers “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” and “The
Contest.” He's such a cod!
Jacob Hale energetically plays
Flounder who is Ursula’s companion and who accompanies her on searches for human
artifacts. He performs well with the Mersisters—Ariel’s siblings—in a wonderful
song and dance number “She’s in Love.”
And then there is David
Bosley-Reynolds as the comical Chef Louis. In a hilarious scene, he tries to
capture Sebastian and cook him for dinner. During the action, Mr.
Bosley-Reynolds sings “Les Poissons.”
Rounding out the excellent cast
are Elizabeth Rayca, Maggie Dransfield, Rachel Kemp, MaryKate Brouillet, Coby Kay
Callahan, Louisa Tringali, Noah Beye, Sylvern Groomes, Ariel Messeca, Brook
Urquhart and AJ Whittenberger.
The Little Mermaid
at Toby’s with its talented performers and crew under Mark Minnick’s excellent
direction is a lighthearted musical for all ages where you will enjoy this
production and the buffet hook, line and sinker. I said that just for the
Running time. Two hours and 40
minutes with an intermission.
The Little Mermaid
runs through January 13 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony
Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044. Tickets
may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online.