Fiddlehead's "Little Mermaid": "Squid Pro Quo"?

The Cast of "Little Mermaid"
(photo: Eric Antoniou/Fiddlehead Theatre)
Squid pro quo” is, as puns go, outrageous, one of many in the current Fiddlehead Theatre Company production of Disney's “The Little Mermaid”. Most of them went right over the heads of the sea of urchins (human, not the marine type) assembled for a recent matinee, but the adults in the audience lapped up the more painfully over-the-top lines. One's tolerance for this level of humor and the Borscht Belt delivery might be strained, but in the end a good time appeared to be had by all. It's their last stand at the Strand venue in Dorchester, so it will be interesting to see how they do in the Shubert Theatre with their mounting of “Showboat” next spring.

For the moment, thanks largely to the excellent Choreography by Kira Cowan Troilo, the inventive Costume Design by Director Stacey Stephens, the lively Music Direction by Charles Peltz, clever Scenic Design by Mac Young, and complex Lighting Design by Zach Blane, they're in a good place. There is also fine Sound Design by Brian McCoy and sometimes pesky Flying by Foy. It's in the source material where the show too often (you should excuse the expression) flounders, with hopelessly over-padded music and dialogue. The original film's Music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Howard Ashman (with some additional lyrics by Glenn Slater) included several such top-drawer songs as “Part of Your World”, “Kiss the Girl” and of course “Under the Sea”. These three numbers continue to delight, but most of the musical numbers added for the stage are instantly forgettable (with the exception of “If Only” sung by the impressive Andrew Giordano as King Triton), some even irritating, such as “Positoovity”.

The cast, every member proficient both in singing and dancing, is led by Jesse Lynn Harte as Ariel, ably supported by Eric (Jared Troilo), Sebastian (Jay Kelley, especially notable for his movement in the “Under the Sea” sequence), and other characters with such names as Grimsby (Ray O'Hare), Flotsam (Chris Pittman), Jetsam (Carl-Michael Ogle), Scuttle (Eddy Cavazos), and, yes, even Flounder (Scott Caron). Standouts are the prance-on role of Chef Louis (Andy Papas) and the powerful voice of Ursula (Shana Dirik). In the acting department, most could profit from a dose of subtlety, but that might be too much to expect from a show with this target audience in its sights.

The main weakness of the show is the Book by Doug Wright, a real surprise, given his noted previous work (“I Am My Own Wife”, “Grey Gardens”). There are a few other relatively minor quibbles (the too-visible wires that make characters “fly”, the mermaids with quite discernible feet, the occasional mugging) but in the end it's the enjoyment of the children (and the childlike adults accompanying them) that truly matters. While the 1989 film remains far superior, and, though it sounds fishy, a non-animated film is in the pipeline, this version, in its across-the-nation popularity, has proven that Hans Christian Anderson's heroine still has legs.

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