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Little Mermaid makes a big splash at Seattle's 5th Ave Theatre

caption: Diana Huey in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
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Diana Huey in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
Tracy Martin

The 5th Avenue Theatre’s original production of the Disney classic, “The Little Mermaid,” is a magical experience with familiar characters, recognizable songs, and a few wonderful surprises that wowed the opening night crowd in Seattle, packed with kids.

We meet Ariel and Prince Eric who are both struggling with finding their place. They come from royalty in their respective worlds — Ariel, the daughter of King Triton in the sea, and Eric, heir to the throne on land — but neither has a sense of belonging.

Prince Eric wants the freedom of life at sea as a sailor, and Ariel often skirts her duties as princess. Her desires are crystalized when she wonders, “What if home is not where you are, but a place you discover?”

Through song, dance, and fantasy, this production explores the meaning and significance of finding where you belong, and also tackles the relationship between parents and their adolescent youth who are finding their paths in the world that may not meet the parents' expectations.

Here’s what to expect

Being the 35th anniversary of this Disney classic, most attendees will likely know the story being told. What impressed me with this production was the work of flight sequence choreographer Paul Rubin, scenic designer Kenneth Foy, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, and choreographer John MacInnis. While viewing a story I knew so well, the staging and choreography made for a performance that still felt fresh.

The production created the illusion of characters swimming by using cables that suspended the sea creatures high above stage. The fluid motions by the actors dazzled the young audience, and Scuttle the seagull was able to spend most of his stage time flying above the stage. The seamless transitions from suspension to being grounded were a highlight. We would see mermaids swimming above, then be grounded momentarily, and whisked back into the air, as they swam away.

A standout moment in the production was Ariel’s performance of “Part of your World.” Diana Huey, who played Ariel, sang this song while suspended high above the stage and audience. Huey kept the illusion of floating in the water, while providing an incredible vocal performance that captivated us all and concluded in an uproarious applause.

Another memorable moment featured Ursula, played by Shaunyce Omar, performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” The dark and tentacled background design, and eerie green and purple lighting that engulfed not only the stage, but the walls and ceiling as well, set the tone for this villainous rendition. The fractured lighting looked like it was refracted from water, and the way it exceeded past the stage itself put us as the audience inside Ursula's evil lair. Her henchmen, clad in light-up costumes, would glide across the stage in wheelie shoes. This was a nice touch and added to the different forms of motion on stage with characters flying and swimming. It also helped keep the attention of younger audience members, like my daughter, who is 6.

caption: Cassi Q Kohl, Shaunyce Omar, and Ethan Carpenter in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
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Cassi Q Kohl, Shaunyce Omar, and Ethan Carpenter in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
Mark Kitaoka

Here’s who this is for

Families! I mentioned my 6-year-old being with me, and holding her attention for two hours is not an easy task. But the constant motion of characters, the unique and flashy costumes, the songs that she sang along to, all made this work for her.

The underlying story of King Triton learning to respect Ariel as a young adult who is free to make her own decisions worked for me. In the final scene, when Prince Eric asks King Triton for his permission to marry Ariel, King Triton responds by informing the prince that Ariel does not need his permission and that she can make her own decision on whether or not to accept the proposal. This play is aimed at youth, but that moment hit me!

My recommendation

This is a great play to introduce kids to musical theater, as well as a good one for kids who are already into theater. It is well paced, which is very important in shows for kids, and visually, there is so much happening. When Sebastian, played by Kevin Smith Kirkwood, sang, “Under the Sea,” the choreography, the costumes of the ensemble, and the two oversized jellyfish puppets were an amazing spectacle. Then, a hidden bubble machine over the stage sent wave after wave of bubbles into the audience. Kids jumped or reached from their seats trying to catch or pop the bubbles.

At the conclusion of the play, after the final song by the ensemble, and Ariel and Prince Eric are all set to live happily ever after, there was a loud bang, and confetti rained down upon us! That final surprise was a show favorite for my kid. These magical moments made "The Little Mermaid" a big hit for kids young and old.

The Little Mermaid, is showing at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle through Oct. 8, 2023.

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