‘The Little Mermaid’ was bubbly.
The lights dimmed, and the beat of the overture played as the audience immersed themselves under the sea in Queensland Musical Theatre’s (QMT) production of ‘The Little Mermaid’. This timeless story was brought to life at the beautiful Twelfth Night Theatre on the edge of Brisbane. Boasting a massive cast, this production was not our average community theatre show!
Based on the famous Disney animated film (which was based on a Hans Christian Anderson Story) ‘The Little Mermaid’ follows Ariel as she yearns to leave her life under the sea to live on land. Add in a nasty sea witch, an overbearing father, and a handsome prince, and you have Disney’s recipe for an award-winning and top-hit show!
Music by Alan Menken boasts an impressive 30 musical numbers, not to take into account the amount of musical underscore that has the band non-stop playing throughout the entire performance. There is something about Menken’s music that makes many Disney fans fall in love with their musicals.
‘The Little Mermaid’ was directed by QMT’s own Artistic Director Deian Ping; overall, the blocking was simple but effective. Most movements were based in realism, and it was clear work was done with those playing non-human characters to ensure that they could portray the animals with ease.
Some further attention should have been paid to audience sightlines as the blocking sometimes made it unclear to the audience who was speaking or singing. Additionally, the use of an animated backdrop was an interesting choice; one this production could have ben done without it. While it added another element to the underwater settings, the quality of the various designs wasn’t consistent. Ursula’s lair was a perfect mix of animated cave, seaweed, and purple haze, whereas the backdrop of ‘Under The Sea’ included cartoon floating animals that were not necessary and cheapened the aesthetics.
Music direction by Julie Whiting was impeccable. Whiting is a well-established and in-demand creative in South East Queensland. This reviewer has been lucky enough to have seen a number of Whiting’s productions, and they have all been musically fantastic. ‘The Little Mermaid’ was no different. Vocally, every actor had been whipped into shape to ensure their vocals were clear and picturesque.
A highlight was the opening number of ‘Fathoms Below,’ featuring a large male ensemble; somewhat of a rarity in community theatre. Additionally, the orchestra for the production boasted an impressive 14 instruments and they did not miss a beat all night. Alan Menken did not provide an easy task; however, they rose to the challenge and exceeded expectations!
Choreography by Julianne Burke was stunning. Burke created a fantastic set of dances for the cast and the dance troupe and each number further added to the storytelling. A special mention to ‘Under the Sea’ where Burke had to create a number with the entire company, and they sure did pull it off!
Lighting by Tom Dodds was also simple and effective, mainly utilizing rotating gobos throughout the production to simulate the underwater world.
Some extra attention could have been paid to the cross lighting, as many numbers had lights pointed directly at the audience, almost blinding for some numbers.
Sound design by Ross Ritchie was commendable for such a difficult task. Unfortunately, there were some moments when microphones were switched off and the audience couldn’t hear the performer singing or talking; additionally, some microphones had too much reverb and diction was unclear. For the most part, this did not distract from the overall audio of the show.
Throughout the production, multiple times, the band was louder than the performers, making it challenging to follow the storyline; some addiitonal attention could be paid to balancing the sound during big numbers.
Set by Gerard Livsey was minimalist but useful and adaptable. Barring the aforementioned digital backdrops, the physical sets utilized were mostly small pieces, all of which worked very well for this production. A throne to establish the palace, a small shelf to show Ariel’s hiding spot, and a string of other pieces were useful in guiding the audience, and filling the gaps. These pieces were constructed well and had a slick design.
The costuming, also by Deian Ping, was extravagant and elegant. Each cast member had multiple changes, and all of them were bright and colourful, mirroring the movie. Special mention must go to Sebastian the Crab’s costume, bright red and steampunk aesthetic was perfect for the spineless crustacean!
A show as big as ‘The Little Mermaid’ could not have been as successful as it was without a stellar cast.
Sophie Mason played the titular role, Ariel. Mason showcased her impeccable vocals; her rendition of ‘Part of Your World’ gave the audience goosebumps and you could hear a pin drop. Audiences were enthralled with Mason at every turn. Her acting was on par with her vocals while maintaining sweetness and innocence. In many ways, she was almost an exact replica of Jodi Benson’s 1986 animated character. It was a delight to witness such talent on the stage.
Aaron Anderson’s rendition of Prince Eric was full of interesting character choices, but he was still delightful. Anderson and Mason had fantastic chemistry on stage, and the audience was rooting for Prince Eric right until the end. A societal concern of Prince Eric and Ariel is that they are a stereotype and a magical ideal that cannot be met. However, both Anderson and Mason’s portrayal, whilst magical, felt more real, giving the audience the belief that this could (almost!) be a true story.
As the Bette Midler of the sea, Rhona Bechaz portrayed Ursula. Bechaz’s rendition of Act One closer, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ was brilliant. While some more sass and attitude could have been included in their characterization, Bechaz’s vocals were more than enough to make up for it. The half-sung, half-spoken song was a highlight of the night from Bechaz and should be highly commended.
In addition to the stellar leads, ‘The Little Mermaid’ also featured Skye Schultz as Scuttle, Jaden Armitage and Alessia Lily Monteverde as Flounder, and Steve Beck as King Triton. These supporting performers played a crucial role in delivering the story to the audience.
A good musical isn’t complete without a large ensemble, and ‘The Little Mermaid’ delivered. The ensemble played an important part in creating a grand spectacular, especially during ‘Under the Sea’ when the full cast was on stage in a flood of colour.
Whilst the cast was stunning, there were two absolute standouts for this reviewer, Matthew McKenzie as Sebastian the Crab and Roh Whittaker as Chef Louis.
McKenzie’s rendition of ‘Kiss the Girl’ & ‘Under the Sea’ were showstoppers. McKenzie has a phenomenal vocal ability and acting talents to command the stage. This crustation’s physicality was also extremely commendable, towing the line of crab and human, McKenzie did a fantastic job.
Whittaker as Chef Louis was the comedic highlight of the evening. Whittaker has an insane vocal range which made many of their choices during their only song ‘Les Poissons’ perfect. Drag Queen by night, Whittaker has clearly used some of these techniques to inject their performance with a sense of queerness and it 110% works. Whittaker is destined for great things.
Overall ‘The Little Mermaid’ was a loveable and bubble night out for audiences of any age. Whilst there are some areas that could have been workshopped or developed further it did not distract from the overall success of the evening. All involved should be highly commended.
‘The Little Mermaid’ played at Twelfth Night Theatre until Sunday, 22 October 2023. For more information visit the QMT website.