Little Mermaid’s many more lives to live

Little Mermaid’s many more lives to live
By Bibsy M. Carballo
The Philippine Star
November 25, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – Despite having grown up with Disney characters Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Mickey Mouse, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Lion King, the Princess and the Frog all associated with Disney in one way or another, we had by some quirk of fate never been exposed to the delightful story of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. We were, therefore, entering an unfamiliar territory watching Atlantis Productions’ version of it at the Meralco Theatre until Dec. 11.

Directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga, the production is said to be among the first stagings of the musical since its Broadway run in 2008. Bobby says they decided to stage The Little Mermaid over a year ago when informed that rights would be made available to Atlantis. Based on Disney’s animated film, in turn based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, it tells of mermaid Rachelle Ann Go as Ariel willing to give up her life under the sea to gain the love of a human Prince Eric played by Erik Santos. The Atlantis version has utilized traditional Asian design elements in the Undersea, and Western design in the World Above.

The musical opens with Prince Eric on a ship, and Mermaid Rachelle Ann spending time in (The World Above) instead of the undersea celebration of dad Calvin Millado as King Triton who had defeated evil sister Ursula, amazingly played by Jinky Llamanzares.

Act 1 deals with Rachelle’s fascination with the human world (Part of your World), as she falls for Erik whom she saves after his ship crashes, and gives up her voice to Jinky (Poor Unfortunate Souls) for three days as a human. In Act 2, Rachelle is palace guest of Erik (Beyond my Wildest Dreams) but he must kiss her before she regains her voice. Erik is attracted to this mute girl and teaches her to dance (One Step Closer), but haunted by the voice he heard after his shipwreck and swears he must find her. In the end, they rediscover each other, Jinky is destroyed after Calvin offers himself in Rachelle’s place, and Calvin lets his daughter go to her new life as a human (Finale).

The musical is most engaging and while Jinky is the crowd favorite, the kids in the audience love the puppets and undersea creatures (Under the Sea), and one of our favorites is Chef Louis portrayed by Julienne Mendoza (Les Poissons).

We are especially interested in the character of Calvin as the King of the Undersea. He mentions something about remembering her mother to Rachelle when speaking of his distrust of humans. We searched for explanations on the Internet and found it in a prequel released by Disney in 2008 titled The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning when Ariel, the Mermaid spent happy times with her mom Queen Athena who was kidnapped by pirates, after which the King banned all music or mention of humans from his kingdom. We would have wanted a song from Calvin reminiscing happy times. That would explain his bitterness and strictness with his daughter. It would make his sacrifice of taking Rachelle’s place even more admirable, and his love for his daughter priceless when he gives permission for her to marry a human.

We think of Erik and Rachelle Ann, champions in mainstream music competitions, who are into their first theatrical roles. We admire their guts and gumption as well as that of producer director Bobby Garcia for putting his reputation on the line. “No problem at all with schedules,” Bobby clarifies. “We made it clear from the beginning that we don’t allow absences or tardiness. Both Rachelle Ann and Erik have been real pros. They are always early. Never missed a rehearsal. And always prepared. They have worked so hard on the show and I am so proud of their performances.”

Of course, the two newcomers have much to learn from their co-stars. They obviously have the vocal instruments for theater and initial feedback from co-workers indicate that they are fast learners with the interest and humility to work on in-depth understanding of their roles.

In 1989, the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale was adapted into an animated film by the Walt Disney studio called The Little Mermaid. The film is credited for breathing life back into animated feature films, and marked the start of an era known as the Disney Renaissance. Meantime, Beauty and the Beast, another animated Disney film was released in 1991 based on a French fairy tale of a prince transformed into a Beast who must win the love of a Beauty named Belle, or will remain a Beast forever. The music of the film was composed by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, both of whom had written the music and songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
erik santosLater, Disney experienced the difficulty of having had to open these two commercial and critical Disney properties on Broadway at the same time that would divide audiences and cause competition between the two shows. They solved it by officially opening running Beauty and the Beast from 1994 and 2007 for 5,464 performances to become Broadway’s eighth-longest running production in history. The Little Mermaid subsequently opened on Broadway January 2008 closing August 2009 after 685 performances and 50 previews.

The Little Mermaid is one of the most popular stories transposed into various forms. Among them are an opera with music by Dvorak performed in Prague; a French three-act opera version called La Petite Sirene; an American Classics Illustrated Junior comic book series published in 1950; a TV version starring Shirley Temple as the Mermaid; a 1966 animated movie with Hans Christian Andersen played by Paul O’Keefe, and the voices of Burl Ives as Father Neptune, Hayley Mills as The Little Mermaid and Tallulah Bankhead as the Sea Witch; even a song called Little Mermaid in the repertoire of the Japanese Jazz-Fusion Band The Square. Animé adaptations are also found in Russia, Japan and the NHK 1991 TV series Saban’s Adventures of the Little Mermaid.

As The Little Mermaid continues its conquest of different mediums, we are most certain it will have more lives to live.

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