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Undersea spectacle mirrors movie's magic

Play as pretty as a princess, with plenty of kid appeal

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The colourful cast of Disney's The Little Mermaid will make audiences feel as if they're in an aquarium of exotic sea creatures

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The colourful cast of Disney's The Little Mermaid will make audiences feel as if they're in an aquarium of exotic sea creatures

The massive brand power of the beloved 1989 animated Disney movie The Little Mermaid was on impressive display at Rainbow Stage Wednesday night.

Gone was the wall of evergreen trees that had significantly shrunk the seating area under the dome for the first two productions of its 60th anniversary season, making way for over 2,200 patrons to fill every seat -- a testament to the box-office might of the Mouse's famous fish-out-of-water spectacular.

Ticket sales have Rainbow officials expecting 11,000 people will see the Canadian première of Disney's The Little Mermaid by the end of this weekend.

Surely everyone is familiar with this underwater fantasy, in which the rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel's curiosity about the surface world becomes an obsession after she falls for hunky human Prince Eric. What the schools of little girls in the audience -- and their older sisters, mothers and aunts who accompanied them -- want to know is whether theatre can visually compete with its perfectly realized animated version.

The answer on Wednesday was in the spontaneous applause that accompanied impressive use of technical effects to send Ariel and her friends flying from the deep to high above the stage to simulate swimming on designer Brian Perchaluk's sea-worthy sets. The wires are visible, but are quickly forgotten during these convincing scenes, especially when Ariel rescues the prince, whose lifeless body is floating aimlessly.

The most eye-popping production number is best-song Oscar winner Under the Sea, in which actors in fanciful iridescent costumes crowd the stage like some oversized aquarium filled with such exotic creatures as snails, a blowfish, sea horses and two jellyfish (perfectly rendered by two open umbrellas with long streamers dangling from them).

There are moments, however, when actors forget to keep their arms undulating as if they are in water, causing the production to lose its deep-sea focus as we watch a lot of people running around on their feet when they should be swimming. More shimmering lighting in these moments would help keep the spectators feeling submerged.

The musical is structured around a simple, kid-centered story with a go-girl message that resonates strongest with young females who feel they don't fit in with the family they love and, perhaps, also feel misunderstood by their single parent.

Ariel is their red-haired pin-up for self-empowerment, a teen who wants to create her own destiny and be herself.

First-time lead Colleen Furlan effortlessly brings out Ariel's youthful impetuosness, which fits nicely with her pristine beauty and crystal-clear soprano voice. The hopeful sincerity that underpins her stirring ballad, Part of Your World, is one of the evening's high points. Her pretty-in-pink scenes will be long remembered by many in the princess set.

Marc Devigne, as Prince Eric, has the less interesting part but sings superbly and is a worthy heartthrob.

While we should be rooting for a happily-ever-after ending during the two hour (plus 20-minute intermission) stage splash, too often our hope is for the return of Ursula, the deceitful octopus who gets her tentacles around Ariel's future, convincing the mermaid to trade her voice for a pair of human legs. Rainbow veteran Jennifer Lyon is irresistible as the familiar Disney villainness who sashays around in a sparkly gown, sporting Medusa-like hair and an evil smirk. Her rousing Poor Unfortunate Souls is a showstopper.

The other scene-stealer is Sebastian, the crusty Caribbean crustacean, played by Aadin Church, who leads the calypso frolic Under the Sea and also sings the catchy Kiss the Girl. Although dressed all in red, including tails and top hat, he looks more like a lobster than a crab. Church's heavy accent sometimes makes him hard to understand, but he is always fun to watch.

Simon Miron's squawky seagull Scuttle earns plenty of laughs from children.

Director Ann Hodges and choreographer Linda Garneau use the ensemble to great effect, such as when Ariel's sisters cut loose with the girl-group stomp She's in Love or a gaggle of seagulls flaps a funky tap routine.

The Les Poissons number, featuring Vince Staltari as French chef Louis attempting to get a reluctant Sebastian onto his chafing dish, is an appealing bit of slapstick.

It looks as if Rainbow Stage has netted a pretty fine catch to wrap up its 60th season.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 D3

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