By Jennifer Mustoe
Spanish Fork Community Theater has their annual summer musical in conjunction with the city’s Fiesta Days celebration. This year’s show, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a wonderful addition to the festivities. In a theater that seats over 1000 and half of tonight’s patrons were wide-eyed children, I’d say SFCT has created a hit.
If you are only familiar with the animated version of The Little Mermaid, you’ll notice the live musical has some changes. There are more musical numbers, there is a reason why Ariel is motherless (and I love this storyline addition), and for the most part, the young leads Ariel and Eric aren’t as one-dimensional as they are in the cartoon. I’d never seen the musical until tonight and I love these updates. If you’re unfamiliar with The Little Mermaid, first a story by Hans Christen Andersen and then made into an animated film by Disney in 1989, it’s the story of Ariel (Aubri Devashrayee-Woodward), a mermaid who yearns to be human and be with Prince Eric (Duncan Johnson), whom she has fallen in love with. Her father, King Triton (David Henry), will not allow this. (In the musical, we understand more about why Triton is so angry about Ariel wanting to be around humans and Henry’s poignant sadness about his wife’s disappearance was a good moment for him; sweet and touching.) Ariel allows herself to sign away her voice to the evil Sea Witch Ursula (Krystal Bigler) in exchange for becoming human. She has three days to get Eric to kiss her before she becomes a slave to Ursula forever. Ariel’s friends Flounder (Caden Huish), Scuttle (Seth Hansen), and Sebastian (Dan Bigler) help her in this journey. Eric is accompanied by Grimsby (BJ Wright), who supports him as his guardian and friend.
Directors Cami Jensen and Ken Jensen have done an amazing job with their very large cast. It seemed like the stage was always full in the ensemble numbers. Of course, ensemble actors are in several scenes and several roles, including palace servants, seagulls, and guests at the palace. And fish, fish, fish! Everywhere fish. And young and old all moved their arms gracefully, reminding us that they are under the sea and need to move through or tread water. From the moment we see a touch of Ariel’s red hair or the flip of her fin in the opening scene, we are transported under the sea. I brought my two granddaughters and daughter-in-law with me, and my three-year-old granddaughter Emily was transfixed by just seeing that little pop of red hair. “There is Ariel,” she whispered. She also was remarkably troubled when Ariel gets feet and kept telling Ariel to say no to the Sea Witch. I mention this because Jensen and her huge crew and cast have created such a believable spectacle that a three-year-old girl felt Ariel’s turmoil when she had to decide to become human or not. This is something, friends—something magical.
All of the sea sets are fabulous, many-layered, and simply magical. Kudos to Jensen and Henry—the sets are luscious. I’m from the beach area in California and I admit, and I know it sounds super hokey, but I felt like I should smell the salt water while sitting in our awesome front row seats when the sea sets were onstage. Lighting by Zac Lambson and sound design by Brock Larson are fabulous and that is saying something. This is a tech heavy show. There are some fun surprises technically, too, and I will say no more. I won’t reveal the fun—you need to see the show. Make up in this show is remarkable, dazzling, sparkly (the mersisters) and scary (Ursula and her two electric eel goons.) Bravo to make up designers Fawn Christopher and David Christopher. Hair by Chelsea Kennedy (who also plays Flotsam) is lovely and fun.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a costume heavy show. You have your mermaids, you have your fish, you have your sailors, your seagulls, your palace servants. And then, you have your jellyfish. Costume Designer Kristal Thompson and her tireless, hardworking staff made these cool jellyfish costumes created from translucent umbrellas with lights in the top and tendrils trailing down. Actors holding the umbrellas waft them up and down and darned if they don’t look like jellyfish floating in the water. And again, I remembered my childhood in Newport Beach, CA and thought: stay away from the jellyfish! They sting like crazy if you step on them! We also loved that the merpeople used wheelie tennis shoes onstage so they glided along and didn’t have to use feet that they’re not even supposed to have. And Trident buzzed regally on a Segway. Pretty cool, I’ll admit.
In this production of The Little Mermaid, one of the best ensemble pieces were Positoovity, a darling tap dance number, sung and tapped by Scuttle and his flock of gulls. (And a big thank you to Scuttle/Seth Hansen for teaching my granddaughters how to pose like a seagull for a photo after the show.) We also really loved “She’s in Love;” lots of fun girl energy there. Choreographer Ginger Leishman really has her performers shining in these and several other ensemble pieces. The dance between Eric and Ariel “One Step Closer” was magical and made me cry. Music Director Kristi Frei has her singers harmonizing well, but some of the ensemble numbers needed a little more oomph. The group didn’t seem to have enough power and I was on the first row. However, all through the show, there are these bursts of truly remarkable singing and Frei has her cast sounding awesome.
The show has much to say in its favor, but really, the stars of the show made it over the top amazing. Devashrayee-Woodward’s Ariel is everything you want in a redheaded teenage singing mermaid. This actress can sing, boy can she sing, and can dance, too, which is pretty great considering the entire first act her legs were stuck together so she had a mermaid fin on her bottom half. Devashrayee-Woodward is graceful and her enthusiasm once she gets to be with Eric is completely adorable. I bought her Ariel 100%. Duncan Johnson’s Eric is one part hunk, one part gorgeous voice, one part sweet romantic hero and he nails this completely. In the animated version, Eric seems so flat. In the musical version, Eric’s singing “One Step Closer” as he dances with Ariel, when she has already given away her voice and can’t communicate with words—this piece just defines this prince. He is all that a handsome charming prince should be. Will you swoon when you see Prince Eric? I’m saying yes. Finally, Bigler’s Ursula pretty much blows everyone else out of the water (see what I did there?) whenever she is onstage. She has as much power in her character as Ariel has sweetness and naivety, and yet—these two women have a lot in common. They want what they want and are willing to go to great (and foolish) lengths to get it. They both have a sense of self and even selfishness in them. I love how these two characters and these two actresses play this comparison and contrast in the story. Very nice. It is very palpable in Spanish Fork’s Little Mermaid.
As I said in my Facebook Live Feed, there were A LOT of kids in this theater tonight. I could hear whispers and giggles and claps from little persons through the whole show. It wasn’t distracting, however, because there was this feeling of awe and anticipation all night. Many of these young audience members had seen the cartoon of this show, so they knew what was coming. But even so, they were delighted. My eight-year-old granddaughter Keira was open-mouthed with surprise or smiling with glee the entire show. And what happens after the show is just as magical as what you see onstage. I took Keira to see the actors after the show (they are all in the sea-themed decorated lobby of Spanish Fork High School around the corner from the theater) and each one of those actors let Keira hug them, take gobs of photos, and it was completely heart-warming. Every show’s cast and crew develops into a family—I’ve been in enough shows to see this for myself. But the cast of Little Mermaid is there for their audience and their love and graciousness after the show makes seeing the show worth it—and the show is worth seeing because it’s great! One of the mermaids asked Keira to move her arms like a mermaid before I snapped a photo of Keira and the mermaid. (Adorbs!) As I said, Scuttle showed my granddaughters how to pose like a seagull. (Cuteness times ten!) Granddaughter Keira pretty much threw herself into the arms of everyone in a costume and these actors warmly received her fan love with actor love of their own. I can’t thank the cast enough. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Note: If you are bringing your children to a live show for the first time, a few instructions before you go may be helpful. My little three-year-older Emily was quite dismayed every time there was a black out between scenes. She’s been to movies, but they don’t go dark and light again and the back and forth of light kinda threw her. Also, the show got long for Emily, and luckily her savvy mother brought something quiet for Emily to do so she could stay at the show. I know she had a hard time staying still in Act Two because it was quite late for a little one, but if we had tried to take her out, I think she would have had a fit. She knew enough to know there was a happily ever after coming and she didn’t want to miss it.
A nod to the few palace servants who performed a save in one scene. A piece of the set came off and fell to the floor. Two of the maid servants picked it up, waited until all the other dancers weren’t in the way, then popped the piece back on the set, and with servantly nods and curtsies, went on their way. They stayed in character the whole time and it seemed like it had been scripted like that. Good job!
My family from CO has never been to a Spanish Fork Community Theater show, or any show in Utah for that matter, and all three who came with me, daughter-in-law Brandy and the two granddaughters, were aglow and filled with praises. Honestly, they gushed about it the rest of the night and the next day.
I admit, I am nostalgic when I go to SFCT’s shows—I was in Hairspray years ago, the show that got me back into theater. The Little Mermaid brought back fun memories, seeing lots of old friends, and the fun of watching this magic through the eyes of my granddaughters.
Spanish Fork’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid plays on Pioneer Day and then the next weekend. If you have never seen a SFCT production before, if you’ve never taken your kids to see a show before, or if you never miss a show here and your kids wouldn’t miss a Fiesta Days production no matter what, do not delay. Come make The Little Mermaid part of your world this July in Spanish Fork.
Spanish Fork Community Theater presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Book by Glenn Slater and Doug Wright
Spanish Fork High School, 99 N 300 West, Spanish Fork, UT 84660
July 20-22, 27-29, 31 7:00 PM, July 14 matinee only 4:00 PM
Tickets: $10.00 adults, $8.00 students/seniors, $6.00 children under 12, $40.00 family pass—up to 6 immediate family members
Little Mermaid Promotional Video