Theatre by the Sea Should Be Part of Your Summer Theater Plans

mermaidCan there be a more perfect setting that Theatre By The Sea for a production of The Little Mermaid?  Theatre By the Sea’s penultimate production of their 2015 season is a delight for children and adults.  As I took my seat, I couldn’t help but overhear subscribers worry about the show. They had never heard of The Little Mermaid, and were afraid that it would only be suitable for children. However, a few moments into the overture, bubbles begin floating down from above and the “oohs” and “ahs” that emanated from the audience illustrated that adults were going to be just as pleased with this production.

When you sit down, you are greeted by a beautifully painted scrim, with sounds of the sea playing that sound as if they could have been recorded next door at Roy Carpenter’s. The scenic designer, Nate Betrone, designed a beautiful set that makes you feel part of Ariel’s world. The orchestra, under the direction of Esther Zabinski, sounds beautiful throughout the performance.

And then the scrim rises and Ariel is onstage. Played by Adrienne Eller, this recent NYU grad never forgets where she is, as she constantly is swimming onstage. That might sound like minor praise, but it really turns Eller from a girl playing Ariel to actually being Ariel, which is especially important with children in the audience. (Let’s be honest — kids are the toughest critics. Any parent who has had the misfortune of looking a little plump in an outfit knows that!) Eller’s in a difficult position here. This is a role where it would be easy to slip into an impression of the cartoon, which would make this production feel as if it is just for kids. Eller has the polished sophistication of a veteran performer, and it is in part of her beautiful job that you forget you are watching a play that was originally designed for children. Her voice was beautiful to witness and soared in pieces like “The World Above” and “Part of Your World.” She was a true delight to watch on stage.

Austin Colby portrays the dashing human of Ariel’s dreams, Prince Eric. Every time he sang it was a treat for the audience. When he sang “Her Voice” you didn’t want the song to end.

You can’t talk about this production without mentioning Keisha Gilles, who plays the evil sea witch Ursula and brings some unexpected humor to the role. Her voice seem bigger than the space as she fills it to the rafters and beyond in her numbers. Her eel henchmen, Flotsam and Jetsam, played by Robert Conte and Daniel Hurst, respectively, were a favorite of the evening. They don’t enter the stage, they glide, and they play the slimy henchmen to a T. Another notable performance was local actor Tom Roberts who plays Grimsby as he does his best to convince Prince Eric to marry. He does so with a fondness for Prince Eric that all parents and guardians can identify with. Roberts is a true Rhode Island gem! Rhode Island native Andrew Holder returns to his home state to play Flounder, and we can only hope that he’ll return once again to lend his talents to a local stage. Crowd favorites Zachary Berger (Scuttle) and AJ Hunsucker (Chef Louis) were enjoyable as well. Director and choreographer Billy Sprague Jr. has put together a fun show that draws you in from the moment you sit down. His choreography was a joy to watch, and the seagulls number was by far a favorite of the evening.

This is a show for adults and children, and if you have a child you want to introduce to the magic of live theater, there is no better show. Throughout the evening peals of laughter came from the children in attendance, and it was a wonderful thing to witness: the beginnings of the next generation of theater goers (some in booster seats provided by the theater so no one misses a beat!). It’s a Rhode Island tradition to attend a show at TBTS, and I was so pleased that I could share in this experience with my 7-year-old son. Of course he had his own views on the show, and I can’t help but share them. He can’t stop talking about Flotsam and Jetsam and how they glide through the audience. And he thought Scuttle was funnier on stage than in the movie. As a parent, whenever I take my son to a production that he deems better than the movie, that’s a win in my book!

The Little Mermaid runs until August 15th at  Theatre By The Sea, 364 Cards Pond Rd., Matunuck. Call (401) 782-8587 or theatrebythesea.com for tickets.

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