An under the sea, magical experience

An under the sea, magical experience
SOUNDS FAMILIAR By Baby A. Gil
The Philippine Star

erik santosGiven the very good track record of the people at Atlantis Productions with staging musicals, there was really no question that they would be able to pull off Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Still, the results proved to be such a joyous surprise. Sweet, magical and lots of fun, the show now running at the Meralco Theater up to Dec. 11 is a total delight for kids and adults alike.

The songs that many recall from the animated film are all here. Then, there are new ones written for the stage version. It may take a while for the kiddies to relate to these but the adults will surely find lots to like in The World Above, Beyond My Wildest Dreams and If Only by The Little Mermaid played by Rachelle Ann Go; in the vampy I Want The Good Times Back and Poor Unfortunate Souls by Jinky Llamanzares as the sea witch Ursula; or in the other numbers like Human Stuff by Scuttle and the seagulls and the riotous Les Poissons by Chef Louis.

There was obviously no skimping on the budget of The Little Mermaid. Everything is in the classic Broadway mode with a full orchestra conducted by Ceejay Javier, great singing, spirited dancing, lots of enchanting creatures and sets that seamlessly move from one scene to another. The latter is usually the bane of local presentations with faulty sets often detracting from the enjoyment of the audience. Not in this case. Lex Marcos came up with clearly delineated designs. You always know if they are on land or underwater, Ursula’s lair or a palace kitchen.

It was also ingenious of directors Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga to incorporate Asian touches into the musical. Sebastian, the Crab could have come from a temple in Thailand. Is that a malong that King Triton was wearing? Are those butterfly sleeves on Ariel? And what about Ariel’s playmate, the perky Flounder, she looks like a cute Chinese girl. Broadway should be envious. More so of the use of Asian puppetry like the wayang from the shadow plays and the bunraku from Japan to help explain situations or further the action. Ursula’s henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam, played by Felix Rivera and Jaime Barcelon are alternately fawning and sinister with a mix of song, dance, mime, puppetry and cleverly designed costumes. They are among the most interesting characters in the show.

But of course, because The Little Mermaid is a musical, it is the singing that people look forward to and I am happy to say that the whole cast and that means also the ensemble delivers. Miss Saigon veteran Llamanzares as Ursula is a true Broadway diva with powerful pipes and flashy gestures. It sometimes seemed incongruous that Sebastian, a red crab who looks like a Buddhist temple dancer is singing to a Jamaican beat but it is forgivable because OJ Mariano is such a good singer and actor. His numbers, Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl are among the highlights of the show. And not to be outdone, the vocals of singing champion Erik Santos as Prince Eric is in fine form all throughout.

It must have only been instinct or maybe experience on the part of Bobby and Chari that prompted them to cast Erik who has never done theater before in the role. But if that was a big risk for Atlantis, then giving the lead role of the mermaid Ariel to Rachelle, another singing contest winner, was even bigger. She has also never done theater before and came to the part armed only with a few acting lessons and her voice. How on earth will she fare in one of the most important theater events of the year? The Little Mermaid has made her a star.

It helps that she has good legs. You cannot help but look when Ariel loses her tail. It is also nice that she looks and acts like a spunky, innocent teenager. And then it is just fantastic that she has that voice. After over 50 years of watching Disney movies and listening to Disney songs, I am sure that we are all already familiar with the sound of the Disney heroine. From Snow White to Cinderella to Belle and Jasmine, etc. they all have this clarity of tone with a little trill that connotes goodness. Disney legend Lea Salonga has it. And beautifully, so does Rachelle. So whether launching into a soft shoe with Scuttle or pleading with Ursula or soaring with Part Of Your World, Rachelle is every bit the Disney Princess.

Don’t miss this one.

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