Friday, January 11, 2008

Did Little Mermaid Find Its Legs Among Critics?

Did Little Mermaid Find Its Legs Among Critics?

Last month, after 50 preview performances, Disney's stage adaptation of The Little Mermaid opened at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Helmed by Francesca Zambello, the Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater tuner starsSierra Boggess, Norm Lewis, Sherie René Scott and Tituss Burgess.

Apparently the critics weren't biting.

Opening with "Loved the shoes. Loathed the show," The New York Times ' self-proclaimed exaggerator Ben Brantley nevertheless pans in his one absolute must-read review. It's that funny: "Directed by Francesca Zambello, this Little Mermaid burdens its performers with ungainly guess-what-I-am costumes (by Tatiana Noginova) and a distracting set (by George Tsypin) awash in pastels gone sour and unidentifiable giant tchotchkes that suggest a Luau Lounge whipped up by an acid-head heiress in the 1960s. The whole enterprise is soaked in that sparkly garishness that only a very young child -- or possibly a tackiness-worshiping drag queen -- might find pretty....Coherence of plot, endearing quirks of character, even the melodious wit of the original score (supplemented by new, substandard songs by Mr. Menken and the lyricist Glenn Slater) have been swallowed by an unfocused spectacle, more parade than narrative, that achieves the dubious miracle of translating an animated cartoon into something that feels like less than two dimensions."

Noting how the show "begins to bloat by the end," Eric Grode of The New York Sun offers a more mixed assessment: "So Disney has turned Mermaid into the latest of its high-gloss screen-to-stage projects -- and the result is almost exactly half as clever and touching and tuneful as the film....Ms. Zambello's embellishments, for the most part, are not particularly welcome ones....Doug Wright has added backstory galore and a handful of grin-worthy puns ("As long as you live under my reef, you'll obey my rules!") but allows the action to bog down well before the final chorus....(Choreographer) Stephen Mear, takes the reins here, and the results are largely successful."

Citing "plastic, plastic everywhere, enough to lead you to drink," New York Post's Clive Barnes gives the show just one star: "Underneath all this baroque ornamentation was a tiny, tinny little musical struggling for its life....The music is sort of perkily lugubrious....The lyrics fade away either in a miasma of romantic fatuity or a haze of grimly dull jokiness....Yet throughout the long-littleness of the show, Mear's more than competent choreography shines out, as they say, like a good deed in a naughty world....There isn't much I can say of the cast -- all swimming upstream with a kind of grinning gallantry."

Assessing it as a "doggedly conventional, well-performed, middling bore of a show," Newsday's Linda Winer is similarly uncharitable: "[T]he most amazing part of Disney's latest musical is its amazing shortage of originality -- not to mention magic or cross-generational wit....[D]irector Francesca Zambello and set designer George Tsypin -- both from the progressive wing of grand opera -- appear to have toiled mightily to come up with almost nothing new....Newcomer Sierra Boggess has both the creamy-voice lyricism and spunky spirit of a fine Disney heroine. Sean Palmer is suitably dashing, if a little mature for her, as Prince Eric."

Citing a bit of an improvement over the Denver tryout, David Rooney of Variety still offers a negative review: "The massive brand power of the beloved 1989 animated feature might make disappointment over the show's diluted charms irrelevant. But the impression remains that this is a case of winning material hitched to the wrong creative team....Sierra Boggess' Ariel is a perfectly lovely, vocally accomplished lead, but Doug Wright's book somehow loses the fundamental quality that made Disney's update of the Hans Christian Andersen tale so captivating onscreen."

You can find my review of the Denver tryout by clicking here.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 11 January, 2008, Blogger SarahB said...

Terry Teachout seems charmed by it. The cast performed on Good Morning America earlier today and I kind of liked it...but it was just two pieces. Although I've heard bad things from trusted friends, I think I'd like to find out for myself, but maybe I'll wait until I have an excuse like taking a niece or some other little love to see it. As always, thanks for the capsule!

At 11 January, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that Brantley's review was fun to read.

I wonder how bitchy he gets after a few drinks at the bar.........?

He does have a wondrous way with words. I wonder if he'd like it more if it was "Little Mermen."

You know taking a child, like Sarah wishes to do, and watching them watch the show can be delightful if they are mesmerized by it. You can get a feel good and enjoyable experience from the children even at an otherwise dreary event.
In their eyes the mermaids really swim and maybe they hear the real waves crashing that we as jaded adults don't.

Steve, I saved the color picture of you; it's better than the one from the Strib, from the Pioneer Press and am sending it to Doug,
along with the NYT article on, and I shouldn't bring his name into Mermaid talk, Barbour.

At 11 January, 2008, Anonymous BrodawyBaby said...

I saw the show in mid-December and would give it 1.5 stars out of 5. It is absolutely dreadful and I was bored stiff.

I thought the Washington Post review was spot-on in its assessment of the show. To quote a few choice remarks: "A low watermark..."

"Geared as it is to a 5-year-old's sensibility, the stage version creates a water world of flimsy pageantry: shiny surfaces, plastic images and ornate thingamajigs"

"The women of Eric's castle dress as if swallowing cotton balls were a fashion statement."

Also none of the reviewers mentioned Tituss Burgess' embarassing queeny "stepenfetchit" portrayal of a Jamaican crab. I loved Tituss in Jersey Boys but this is the second time I"ve seen him portray a flaming black minstrel stereotype (the first time he played a very flaming cowardly lion in The La Jolla Playhouse Wiz revival). My two gay black friends who saw the show in La Jolla were absolutely appalled.

Tituss was very good in Jersey Boys and I hope he can move away from playing animated animals (a lion, a crab) and move back to playing dignified roles.

At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

To be honest, I liked the show better than Brantley. I think the cast did their best with what they were given, but I wasn't charmed by the lack of magic.


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