Disney-mania in Manila

Disney-mania in Manila
By Mirava M. Yuson
The Philippine Star
December 05, 2011

erik santosMANILA, Philippines – One of the most commonly heard complaints about local stage productions is that they’re not “big” enough. What exactly they’re not big enough for is something never quite elaborated on. Presumably, naysayers are picturing falling chandeliers and giant clock faces when they imply lack of stage space (even though CCP was able to fit a life-sized helicopter onstage back in 2000), or worse, a lack of variety in capable performers who can fill the shoes of Broadway greats. Sadly, such claims only prove that characteristic Filipino self-deprecation is still alive and well.

It may be true that we have a bizarre love for scaffolding, as well as abstract backgrounds that can stand in for different locations (a colorful one can be the stained-glass windows of a church, for example, or a uniquely starry night). However, these tendencies for “minimalist,” mostly urban-set musicals, are an indication of progress rather than proof of hindrance.

As theater companies work their way up the Tony-winning roster of play rights — while mixing in Broadway classics that aren’t being performed anywhere else — we are getting closer and closer to the showstoppers many have been yearning for. If Atlantis Production’s The Little Mermaid is any indication, more space and a myriad of stage actors are not a matter we should be concerned over.

Although it is based on the world-renowned Disney film of the same title, which was released all the way back in 1989, the musical opened on Jan. 10, 2008 and is actually a fairly new creation. Alan Menken, who composed the movie’s original score, and Greg Slater collaborated on around ten new songs. And the soundtrack garnered them a Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Amidst the general air of Disney-brand nostalgia that’s been floating around (The Lion King 3D is here for a reason), The Little Mermaid was therefore one of the more fitting choices of musicals for families to enjoy while anticipating the holidays.

The play opens — literally — with a storybook, though the parallels to Hans Christian Andersen’s short story stop there. Nevertheless, for every adult ready to judge the on-stage depictions of long popular numbers such as Part Of Your World, I Kissed A Girl and Under The Sea, there would be a much younger counterpart that is, in all likelihood, discovering the magic for the first time.

And what a magical first time it was, thanks to Atlantis Productions’ and directors Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga’s efforts in maintaining topnotch production value. From the get-go, the bottom of the ocean floor was quite the spectacle. And if the sequined fins, wispy threads and more than 20 different species of fauna weren’t enough to bring color to Ariel’s world, glow-y appendages, shadow puppetry and a lot of sparkling props and costumes made memorable appearances, and were a sight even for seasoned eyes.

erik santosThere are some notable differences from the animated movie version, naturally, most likely to justify bringing together such a large and diverse cast. Playing a slightly more demure Ariel is Rachelle Ann Go, while Erik Santos is love interest Prince Eric. The two characters provide solace for each other’s rather controlling families, and are woven together in a Cinderella-esque tale as Prince Eric tries to find the siren who serenaded him while he was sinking, and — you know the rest.

King Triton (Calvin Millado) and Ursula (Jinky Llamanzares) are at odds with one another more than ever, as they are brother and sister fighting for control of the sea. But in keeping with Disney’s cute-animal policy, Sebastian (OJ Mariano) the lobster, Flounder (deceptively young-looking Lee Villoria) the fish and Scuttle (Ikey Canoy) the seagull stick around to keep things as animated as possible.

Taking advantage of its runtime, the musical makes sure to flesh out characters in ways that the movie did not: King Triton himself gets this treatment, as does Eric, who actually has songs in this adaptation, including the charming solo Her Voice. Ursula is all the more affably evil than ever, especially with Poor Unfortunate Souls, a shining moment for both Llamanzares and her neon tentacles.

The musical succeeded in capturing the pure, unabashed joy that Disney is famous for, with enthusiasm and dance numbers one usually gets while on a rare trip to one of their world-famous theme parks. Thus, a family experience such as The Little Mermaid is not to be missed, though Disney fans may have a slightly difficult time while they resist the urge to sing along.

* * *

The Little Mermaid will be performed in Meralco Theater on Dec. 8, 8 p.m., Dec. 10 (at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Dec. 11 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.). For tickets, call TicketWorld or 891-999 or visit http://www.atlantisproductionsinc.com.

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