On a soggy summer evening that only a fish could love, Mill Mountain Theatre held the final dress rehearsal for their production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” and put on a show that was pure treasure from the opening curtain to the final ovation.
Although it was a rehearsal, there was a reasonably good sized audience who had been invited to attend in order to help the actors get a feel for how the production was coming together, as Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole explained in her welcome remarks.
And the answer to how the show was faring on the eve of opening night is: splendidly.
Even those who have not seen the Disney animated film of “The Little Mermaid” are probably familiar with the general outline: A young mermaid named Ariel dreams of what lies beyond her watery world, and when chance brings her together with a handsome prince, her longing to live on terra firma becomes even more acute. But there are trade-offs to be made, and Ariel must reckon with some harsh realities.
The cast is comprised of students in the age 6-18 cohort, most of them participants in MMT’s Conservatory, a pre-professional training program that nurtures creative talent.
Victoria Riego de Dios portrays Ariel with an open-hearted sweetness befitting her youthful imaginings, and a clear, soaring voice that powers her main solo number, “Part of Your World,” and all of her vocal outings.
As Prince Eric, Simon Elliott is a thinking girl’s royal — full of dignified bearing but gentle and not at all stuffy.
Eric Jones does a fine turn as Ariel’s father, King Triton, convincingly portraying the love and concern of a parent for his child.
Audiences will no doubt love to hate Ursula, the sea witch, a nefarious presence in Ariel’s life. Paige Smeltzer creates a sinister character made even more dramatic by way of some astounding vocal gymnastics in both word and song.
And all of the players are every bit as strong as the leads.
Noah Cox infuses his Grimsby (Prince Eric’s sidekick) with delightful old-world bluster.
Ariel’s three main companions from her ocean community are Sebastian the crab, played by Ashlinn Blevins; Scuttle the gull, played by Olivia Goodman; and Flounder, played by Jasper Moore. Each provides a unique foil for Ariel on her journey of the heart, with Flounder contributing a rousing turn in the number “She’s in Love,” and Sebastian and Scuttle providing some moments of laugh-out-loud humor. (We won’t spoil them here.)
The supporting company is universally terrific, from Eric’s shipmates to the chef ensemble and Ariel’s mermaid sisters who combine for some wonderful harmonies, down to the tiny sea creatures in their whimsical costumes who operate the blue fabric waves that are an important element of the set design.
Those waves and other stage pieces are altogether spare, beautiful and nimbly manipulated to advance the briskly paced story. In fact, when Ariel completed her mermaid-to-human transformation, it was all but invisible, it was so smooth.
Adding to the production’s success were music that was seamless throughout, and a sprinkling of ocean-themed puns that made the most of the under-the-sea ambiance. If there was a missed cue or a sour note anywhere, it was not to be detected.
“The Little Mermaid Jr.” runs through Aug. 11. For anyone in the market for an energetic, uplifting theater experience, this is one boat you don’t want to miss.