Align Entertainment’s The Little Mermaid sails with talent and polish

Local theatre company brings timeless Disney story, songs and messages to life. 

There’s something magical about Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and Align Entertainment has done a fine job in delivering this magic to local audiences.  Led by the show’s talented star Elyse Maloway as Ariel, this production of The Little Mermaid truly encompasses the heart and soul of the story.

As Ariel, Maloway has a crystal-clear voice and its obvious why Eric falls madly in love. Maloway also has an undeniable charm that captivates you and makes you root for her every splash and step of the way in her journey. Colton Fyfe brings a refreshing innocence to the role of Prince Eric and it’s adorable to see the chemistry between him and Maloway. Fyfe also does a commendable job with his challenging solo “Her Voice”.

Erin Matchette is wickedly evil as the legendary villainess Ursula. She fabulously delivers “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with flair and viciousness – you can’t help but be both entertained and frightened by Ursula at the same time. As the seagull Scuttle, Chris Adams turns a forgettable character from the movie, into quite a delightful addition to the show. His comic timing is great – and he steps things up a notch (literally) when he breaks out into tap dancing during “Positoovity” in act two.

Also deserving of praise is the ensemble of actresses who play Ariel’s sisters. Their individual characterizations are off-the-charts hilarious and they really kill it during “The Contest”, when they all “audition” to be Eric’s bride-to-be.

In the original Broadway production, cast members who played underwater characters wore Heelys (remember the roller-skate/shoe thing that was popular for a minute in the early 2000s?). This gave the illusion that the actors were floating underwater as they glided across the stage, with their mermaid/merman tails sailing behind them.

This strategy has continued in most subsequent productions, including this one. Director Chad Matchette has developed this underwater illusion further by occasionally lowering down set pieces representing water, effectively shielding the lower half of the actors. The visual is quite nice, especially at the beginning of the show when it looks like Ariel is flying across. It’s also an excellent way to distinguish between sea and land in certain scenes.

Matchette has also infused a few other creative ideas into this show, including the end of the first act, when Ariel is hoisted up to the surface of the ocean. Ariel’s sky-high rise is stunningly magical. Matchette’s collaboration with choreographer Melissa Turpin also results in a beautiful, picturesque version of “Kiss the Girl”. Strong ballet-trained dancers portraying the water’s waves, and an ensemble of water creatures surround Eric and Ariel who appear to be gliding across the stage in their boat.

Turpin has also done a fine job with the comical “Les Poissons (Reprise)”, where Sebastian fights for his life. This number is a strong presentation of characterization and showmanship from the cast, as well as cleverness on Turpin’s part.

Align Entertainment’s production has many great qualities. However, there are two areas where it would have been nice to see further strength. The first area being, the climatic confrontation between Ursula, and King Titan and Ariel. The stage seemed really bare for such a dramatic climax. It would have been nice to see more theatrical elements or strategic staging. The second area that felt weak was the orchestra. The orchestra performed at a satisfactory level, but didn’t quite knock it out of the park. Most notably, it sounded like there were some wrong notes and muddiness during the show’s “Overture” – which also didn’t seem to climax to the rousing potential of the score.

For me the highlight of the show are the closing moments, and if you’re a fan of heartfelt Disney endings, make sure you bring your Kleenex. The ending is a wonderful display of creative staging as well as strong vocal harmonization and genuine emotion from the cast. Overall, Align Entertainment’s production of The Little Mermaid has true Disney magic, along with impressive local talent and polish. The show’s messages of listening to your heart, and always striving to live your dreams, ring loud and crystal-clear as Ariel’s voice.

Align Entertainment’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid plays at the Michael J. Fox Theatre until February 18. For ticket information, visit Align Entertainment’s website.