The production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, which opened a six-day, eight-performance run at Bass Hall on Tuesday night, is what you would expect it to be. Exactly what you would expect it to be.
For many, that’s good news. It seems fair to say that Disney has a pretty good track record with fairy-tale-based musicals like this one, and this show boasts a lot of the elements of blockbusters like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. It features perky, fresh-faced young leads (Alison Woods as Ariel, Eric Kunze as Prince Eric) who sing all their numbers with an end-of-the-world earnestness, eye-popping costumes, flashy sets and flying stunts (which, in this show, are actually swimming) that are pulled off extremely well.
There are also a few impressive production numbers in this Hans Christian Andersen tale about a half-girl, half-fish who wants to break the waves to be with her prince charming. Under the Sea is a real crowd-pleaser, even though Melvin Abston, as the crab Sebastian, does a better job with his acting than his singing. And Les Poissons, one of the few truly funny moments in this romance-driven show, comes as a real breath of fresh air in the second act, thanks to a no-kitchen-utensils-barred performance by Jeff Skowron as Chef Louis, an overzealous cook who wants to put Sebastian in a stew.
But this national touring show, which was produced by Dallas Summer Musicals and is presented here by Performing Arts Fort Worth, can also be accused of being far too pat for its own good. It is as if it was built from bits of blueprints cobbled together from other successful Disney shows. The antiseptic predictability of Disney musicals is always a bit off-putting, but never more so than in this case. Also, the music by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, is just not as strong overall as it is in other Disney shows of this ilk.
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Not that any of this means anything to an 8-year-old girl in a Little Mermaid outfit — the only patron who matters at this show. You already know whether you and your little princess (who can recite this thing based on a bazillion viewings of the movie) want to see this show or not, so no quibbling about production values (The sound was less than perfect on opening night.) or the relative quality of the material is going to dissuade the faithful.
It is just that if you do go, don’t expect to encounter anything you haven’t already seen cranked out of Disney’s magical musical machine in other, much more consistently engaging contexts.