When the human world is a mess

BDT Stage provides some summer fun with ‘The Little Mermaid’

Alicia K. Meyers in the BDT Stage production of Disney's 'The Little Mermaid.'

On the fourth consecutive day of “too hot” this summer, an afternoon at the beach starts to sound real nice. But, living in this landlocked state, sometimes the only reasonable escape is a daydream: imagining the sand between your toes, seagulls flying overhead, crabs scuttling along the shore, and maybe, in the depths of the water, a magical world that sings about the joys of the sea.

While the glory of a real beach day is hard to beat, BDT Stage’s summer production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid can satiate the craving. Now playing through Sept. 8, The Little Mermaid musical brings to life the 1989 Disney film and subsequent 2008 Broadway musical.

The classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale follows King Triton’s youngest mer-daughter Ariel, who yearns to be in the human world. When she falls in love with two-legged Prince Eric, she makes a deal with auntie sea witch Ursula, trading her voice for a pair of bottom limbs. Now she has three days to make Eric fall in love with her before becoming Ursula’s slave for eternity.

When considering the purpose of the show, talking crab babysitter Sebastian sums up The Little Mermaid perfectly: “The human world, it’s a mess,” he sings. “Life under the sea is better than anything they’ve got up there.”

While those words were true in the late ’80s, they still hold plenty of weight for modern audiences who deal with heart palpitations at the sight of every new headline. So when you’re looking for escapism, The Little Mermaid is welcome, light-hearted fare. Moreover, it’s a fun-filled show packed with joy and theatrical razzle dazzle. The perfect family-friendly event needs to be entertaining for both adults and children. The Little Mermaid captures young imaginations, and the show’s whimsy transports adults to their childhood. 

The show is a pleasing affair for both Disney lovers and theater diehards. One of its strengths, which can be tricky to navigate, is its addition of new material. The Little Mermaid is an exemplary model of adding new songs that match the quality of the old classics. The new songs give more space to the supporting characters, like Ursula’s murder ballad “I Want the Good Times Back,” Eric’s lovely ode to his mystery love “Her Voice,” and Scuttle’s knee-slapping jig “Positoovity.” The new additions reinvigorate the classics, making the show feel like a fresh offering.

Always the most fun part of any Disney-cartoon-turned-stage-musical is the creation of a fantasy world on stage. Challenges are opportunities for magic in the theater, and The Little Mermaid works hard to bring alive an ocean of sea creatures and the mermaids who swim throughout. How they achieve these effects is just another nod to the greatness of theater.

Two of the highlights of the show are the wonderful costuming and props. Obviously, there’s a lot of fun to be had when personifying animals, and the costume department takes every liberty. The night is filled with glitter, lights, sequins, wigs, feathers, ruffles, masks and an endless parade of colors. Joined with the use of some amusing puppetry, the show is enchanting to watch.

The technical elements of the production are strong, but the show would only go so far without a stellar cast to back them up. In the starring role, BDT Stage newcomer Lillian Buonocore is a dazzling Ariel. She possesses the charisma and comedic chops for the role, and she presents Ariel with the impeccable Disney princess lilt. She rounds out her performance with powerful-yet-delicate vocals that are resonant.

Buonocore is well-matched with Cole LaFonte playing Eric. LaFonte brings authenticity and heart to the role of the dashing prince charming. And flawlessly cast in the role of arguably the best Disney villain is BDT Stage mainstay Alicia K. Meyers, who infuses Ursula with malevolent charm and a knockout voice.

The show also features a kooky band of supporting characters including Flounder (played by Chas Lederer), Scuttle (Bob Hoppe) and Sebastian (Anthony P. McGlaun).

The mark of a good show is leaving the theater feeling lighter and happier than when you walked in, kind of like a good afternoon at the beach. While we may not have access to miles of shoreline or its real underwater worlds around here, The Little Mermaid is a sweet summer treat that is just as refreshing.

On the Bill: Disney’s The Little Mermaid. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, bdtstage.com. Through Sept. 8.

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