By Thom deMartino
Fathoms below the polished surface of a seemingly tranquil sea, still waters run deep: as a young princess’ yearning for a world she’s never known will lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery — and ultimately, true love.
Free-spirited Princess Ariel (April Malina) is the youngest daughter of the undersea king, Triton (Tim Nelson) — and smitten with the fascinating and forbidden human realm above. Rather than practice her melodious singing under the tutelage of agitable court composer Sebastian the crab (Adrien Villegas), she instead spends her days collecting “treasures” discarded by those mysterious, seafaring men — until a chance storm flings the handsome and tender-hearted Prince Eric (Zack Zumbek) overboard and into her arms.
Waking upon the shore, the prince doesn’t remember the face of his aquatic savior, only her hauntingly beautiful voice — and is intently resolved to find its owner: Ariel finds herself enraptured by the captivating young man, and realizes she would give anything to be part of his human world. Defying her father, she goes to her aunt, the cunning and manipulative sea-witch Ursula (Mary Murphy-Nelson) who offers her a trade: a pair of — what do the humans call them? Legs? — in exchange for her voice.
The sea-witch, however, has plans of her own: if Ariel cannot get the prince to kiss her within three days, she belongs to Ursula — who intends to use her niece as a comely bargaining chip to steal the throne she so desperately covets from her brother, King Triton.
The Rose Center Theater in Westminister is in the midst of an impressive 11th season, and the expansive auditorium is the ideal venue to host such a sprawling spectacle as “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” Versatile backgrounds, deft lighting effects and skate-shoes (cleverly used to simulate swimming) add to the production’s success — but of course, the most radiant stars are the cast themselves. The vocal power in this musical is remarkable, across the wide spectrum of chorus, supporting, and main characters: with some harmonies so beautiful as to bring a tear to the eye.
Joshua Hizon as Flounder and Damon Williams as Scuttle delight in their supporting roles, Malina and Zumbek charm and dazzle with their melodies as Ariel and Eric, and Villegas tickles as the overwrought and manic Sebastian.
But it’s Murphy-Nelson who is a revelation, basking in her villainousness every time she takes the stage — chewing the scenery and making a feast of the succulent role of Ursula, in a throwback to such classic Broadway vocalists as Ethel Merman and Rosalind Russell.
The solitary, dissonant note of a near-perfect production was some sound issues, such as some audio feedback during a couple of the musical numbers: but it was certainly outweighed by the thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Tim Nelson did double-duty on the piece, acting not only as King Triton, but as director as well, having directed another production previously this year. “I worked on the show this summer in upstate New York…when I saw the results of it there and how magical the kids get, all of the audiences… I just knew that it captured the hearts of everybody — I wanted to do that at the Rose Center.”
Nelson also had high praise for both the cast and the material itself: “I feel very fortunate to have attracted the high level of talent we have in this production! This score is truly one of Alan Menken’s best!”
A treat for all ages, the Rose Center Theater’s production of “The Little Mermaid” is a magical experience to enjoy with the whole family this holiday season.
“The Little Mermaid.” April Malina, Zack Zumbek and Mary Murphy-Nelson star in this lovingly-produced and directed stage adaptation of the beloved Disney film. Playing from Nov. 18 – Dec. 18 at the Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminister, CA 92683. Appropriate for all ages.
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