Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Not Just for Girls

It’s difficult to fathom that 25 years have passed since The Little Mermaid ushered in the “Disney Renaissance” — with no signs of the Mouse House’s dominance of popular culture waning anytime soon. Debuting in movie theaters November 17, 1989, the film and its music went on to win two Oscars, two Golden Globes, two Grammies, and has earned over $200 million worldwide. In 2007, an adaptation of the film made its way to Broadway, bringing to life the tale of the headstrong princess and all the magic and music found under the sea.

Ariel and company have swam their way across the country and around the world, finding themselves currently on the main stage at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland.

Disney's Little Mermaid

The serendipity of the film’s anniversary allowed our family to re-watch it on The Disney Channel just a day prior to attending the live show. However, over the last year, gender stereotypes had begun to sink their claws into my 5-year-old son, so I was worried he might not be too excited to see the play.

For example, Disney’s most recent juggernaut, Frozen, was the first film Jon ever saw in the theater. He loved the movie and had the soundtrack memorized. Yet by the end of his first year of preschool, he’d declared it “boring” because it “was about girls.” But as we watched Mermaid, he jumped up during “Under the Sea” and exclaimed, “This is my favorite song!”  So I knew we were in good shape.

But then Papa came down with “the fever” (as Jon described it to everyone we met that evening), so it was just me and my antsy, energetic, easily-bored-or-distracted boy. I reminded him as we pulled into the parking lot the rules of seeing a play: stay in your seat, clap after all of the songs, no talking. I was fully prepared to leave if he got too disruptive or bored, but I needn’t have worried.

From the moment the show began, the vibrant images and colors of the lighting, sets and costumes pulled us in and held our attention. The inventiveness of the production was fun for Jon and I to point out (“Look how they’re making the waves!” “Daddy, those fish are wearing roller skates!”) And while the story was very (recently) familiar, seeing and hearing it on stage was vastly more exciting.

Disney's Little Mermaid - Under the Sea

The acting and singing were all superb. Standouts included Lara Zinn as the graceful and independent Ariel, Nicholas Ward as the booming King Triton, and Clark Young as the annoying yet endearing Scuttle the seagull. Troy Hopper as Sebastian the crab was Jon’s favorite, and he really shone in his musical numbers. And not surprisingly, two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient Donna Migliaccio stole the show as Sea Witch Ursula — at times even upstaging the original film role voiced by Pat Carroll.

Jon’s review can be summed up in a few observations:

  • He clapped excitedly after every song…except for Ursula’s. He even put his hands on mine so I wouldn’t applaud the bad guy.
  • While he didn’t remain completely still, he only ever got out of his seat to crawl into my lap to get a better view.
  • At intermission, he didn’t want to “wait for the commercial,” and started to go up on stage to see what was going on.
  • After the show he asked to get the Ariel toy from the gift shop. Not the stuffed Flounder or mini spyglass, which were likely there to appeal to the boys, but the little figures of Ariel and Prince Eric reenacting the scene during “Kiss the Girl.”
  • On the ride home, after jabbering a while about how he liked the crab and thought the electric eels were creepy, he eventually fell asleep, clutching Ariel and Prince Eric in his lap.

Disney's Little Mermaid - Ursula Disney's Little Mermaid - Ariel & Eric

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (includes intermission); recommended for ages 5 and older — even boys.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid runs now through December 28, 2014. Tickets range from $32.50 to $65 and can be purchased through the Olney Theatre Center Box Office at 301.924.3400 or by visiting www.olneytheatre.org.

Olney Theatre Center is an award-winning, nonprofit, Equity theatre. Located just north of Washington, D.C. in arts-rich Montgomery County, Maryland, Olney Theatre Center offers a diverse array of professional productions year-round. Olney Theatre Center is situated on 14 acres in the heart of the beautiful Washington-Baltimore-Frederick “triangle,” within easy access of all three cities. Olney Theatre Center is home to the National Players, America’s longest-running touring company and led by Artistic Director Jason Loewith and Managing Director Debbie Ellinghaus. For more information, please visit www.olneytheatre.org.

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[Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets to the show in exchange for this review. Regardless, I only recommend products, services or events I use or experience personally, and that I believe my readers will enjoy. All opinions are mine and/or Jon’s.]

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