By Maggie Klein
Young love, rebellious daughters, magic spells, and dinglehoppers? It’s the perfect recipe for a fin-tastic fairytale. “Life is better down where it’s wetter,” but don’t take it from me; swim on down under the sea to find out for yourself in J.E.B. Stuart High School’s bubbly rendition of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.’
Based on the well-loved 1989 Disney film and the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the same name, “The Little Mermaid” was brought to the stage in 2008 with book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater. The classic story of a mermaid who trades her voice for legs to find love and happiness in the world beyond the ocean continues to win the hearts of the young and old alike.
As the titular mermaid, Mary Harrell did the iconic role justice. She delivered the consistently effervescent vocals that so define Princess Ariel while also creating a youthful, dynamic characterization of the headstrong girl. Even when she was voiceless, Harrell remained engaging and expressive as she danced, gestured and reacted her way through the second act. Sam Wells was charming as her Prince Eric. He captured the sweet dynamic of the pair of “fish out of water” struggling to reconcile their desires with those of their parents.
Flounder (Naomi Bertha) and Sebastian (Elijah Williams) were audience favorites as Ariel’s fishy (and crustaceous) friends. Bertha’s commitment to the anxious little fish was evident as she flapped her fishy fins about and spoke in a voice perfectly befitting of the childlike character. Williams’ grand humorous choices, including a falsetto in the energized “Under the Sea” and a hilarious chase scene in “Les Poissons” with comedic standout Chef Louis (Jonah Garces-Foley) made him a highlight of the night.
Andrea Pedemonte eclipsed expectations of a high school performance in the notorious role of Ursula. With big tentacles to fill, Pedemonte more than delivered the booming vocals, unbridled confidence, and commanding stage presence of the sassy sea witch. Slimy sidekicks Flotsam (Darien Roby) and Jetsam (Deema Alharthi) rounded out the villainous trio with unmatched energy, vocals, and unfailing eel physicality. Bella Lanoue-Chapman was yet another standout as the squawking seagull Scuttle as she led a cohort of tap-dancing birds through the fun and peppy “Positoovity.”
Choreography (Andrea Pedemonte), costumes, and makeup (Leilani Curran and Tess Wadson) made big numbers like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” vibrant celebrations. Attention to detail in makeup seamlessly aged Grimsby (Berkeley Wilkins) and transformed sea creatures with the use of colorful contour. In a nod to the original Broadway production, several cast members also wore Heelys; this gave Ariel a gliding grace with an edge of spunk as she wheeled her way through the water.
With their attention to detail and clear enthusiasm, J.E.B. Stuart High School made dinglehoppers out of forks in their magical production of “The Little Mermaid.” Their boisterous yet heartfelt take on a beloved classic is sure to leave you happy as a clam.