Under the spell of ‘Little Mermaid’
By: Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 23, 2011 | 7:08 pm
I brought Nicole out for a mommy-daughter date to the theater last Friday, the opening night of Atlantis Productions’ mounting of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at the Meralco Theater.
All of us in the family have seen the Disney film on which the stage version was based. But we haven’t seen the stage production, so I jumped at this opportunity.
From the moment the music played (under the excellent musical direction of Ceejay Javier), we were magically transported to this kingdom under the sea.
The plot is similar to that of the movie, besides moments that would have been impossible to stage (there is no shark chase here, nor is there a gigantic Ursula).
New songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater (the same team behind “Tangled and Sister Act: The Musical”) were added, which seemed to blend seamlessly enough with the original tunes from the film.
This stage version stars Rachelle Ann Go as Ariel, Erik Santos as Prince Eric, Jinky Llamanzares as Ursula, OJ Mariano as Sebastian, Calvin Millado as King Triton, Ikey Canoy as Scuttle, Felix Rivera as Flotsam, Jamie Barcelon as Jetsam and Raymond Concepcion as Grimsby.
Add to that a mix of Atlantis, Repertory Philippines and Trumpets/Stages regulars with a few fresh faces, and you have a very strong, principal-player quality ensemble.
The way the show was orchestrated, I swore you heard far more than the number of players who were actually in the pit. The sound was rich, bright and full. Kudos, too, for the sound design team. There was only one crackle the entire night, and even then it wasn’t disturbing.
The sets and costumes were beautiful and inventive. I loved the “Kiss the Girl” scene—where fireflies, frogs and large birds came alive, creating a colorful and romantic atmosphere. “Under the Sea” was one big calypso party, with neon creatures and sea plants. The silhouette puppetry deserved praise as well.
I couldn’t ask for anything more from the performers. From ensemble to principal, each one was completely committed to creating this beautiful world. But of course I have my standouts.
Llamanzares rocked my world with her mind-blowing vocal skills as Ursula. Each time she opened her mouth to sing, I got so gigil at just how amazing she was, not to mention the bigness in her personality to actually make those humongous and unwieldy costumes come to life. Ang sarap kayang hagisan ng sapatos sa sobrang galing.
Millado was more than sufficiently regal as the ruler of the seas; Rivera and Barcelon were a lovely electric eel team (they were so clear that even my 5-year-old knew what kind of creatures they were supposed to be); Canoy was a really funny and endearing Scuttle (he was also great in “The Kitchen Musical,” now showing on Studio 23 and AXN); and Concepcion was a very dignified Grimsby.
Mariano was fantastic as Sebastian, although his Caribbean accent found itself in Ireland and Scotland once in a while. Kudos to the six princesses, too, each for being so unique whether they were on land, or in the ocean. To the male ensemble, you were all muy macho.
Now, for the two artists making their musical theater debuts. Santos has vastly improved in his English diction. It is clear that for “Mermaid,” he put in a lot of hard work, which was beautifully on display here, especially when he sang. There is still room for improvement, but he has made great strides in the right direction. And yes, he actually can act, too!
As for Go, I don’t know that the superlatives in my vocabulary could cover just how wonderful I thought she was. Bundles of charm oozed from her, as well as an easy sense of humor and adventure. Her voice was also a great mix of that clean and pristine Disney sound, plus a deep pop sensibility that made this score (and her Ariel) accessible to everyone.
She was a perfect Ariel, and her portrayal will only continue to deepen and improve. She blew me away on opening night. Whatever management outfit, studio or record label is currently handling her needs to realize, if they haven’t already, just how big a treasure they have on their hands. Go is incredibly talented.
So run, drive, and yes, swim to “The Little Mermaid.” They have three more weekends at the Meralco Theater. If the standing ovation on opening night is any indication, they are in for a stellar run. Congratulations to the entire cast and crew, including co-directors Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga and choreographer Cecile Martinez. Break fins until December 11!