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Under the direction of Dana Marley-Kolb, The Little Mermaid cast hope we will take away the lesson that while mistakes are made in life, love will surely prevail! And that is definitely the lesson I am taking away from today’s matinee.
Unfortunately, there are still microphone hiccups and a few staging and lighting mishaps that one would hope should be gone at the halfway mark. However what far outweighs those few upsets are the incredibly talented stand out performances by local theatre veterans, Vincent Perez (Sebastian), Alison Friedman Rosenblum (Ursula), Erin Fagundes (Scuttle) and David Gilchrist (Grimsby).
Perez whom this reviewer adored in Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and The Drowsy Chaperone at Simi Arts Cultural Center and Rosenblum whom audiences recently saw in High Street’s Into the Woods earlier this year know how to captivate the audience with their stage presence not to mention those magical voices that sound as if Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater‘s lyrics were written just for their voices.
While often Sebastian the crab is played with a Caribbean accent, Perez stuck to the same accent he used for The Drowsy Chaperone and Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder which aided in his fresh interpretation of Sebastian. Highlights included beautiful vocals on “Under the Sea”, “Kiss the Girl” and “If Only (Quartet)”. Choreographer Wendy Barr thankfully played to Perez’ strengths and his dancing during “Under the Sea” received one of the heartiest applause of the afternoon. I only wish that he could have put on his tap-dancing shoes and joined Erin Fagundes in a joyful 2nd act opening “Positoovity”.
Rosenblum, whom I have known since high school, was the ultimate star of the show with her magnificent portrayal of villainous Ursula! She rivaled Pat Carroll from the original animated movie for the perfect voice for Ursula. Could it be she even surpassed Sherie Rene Scott and Faith Prince thanks to her, as she laughingly referred to it, “man voice”?
And I absolutely loved her vocal chemistry and teamwork with Mary Grace Zehnpfennig and Briana Bauer who played the sexy female versions of Flotsam and Jetsam. With her devilish good charisma and fabulous vocals, Rosenblum stole not only Ariel’s voice but the show!
Director Dana Marley-Kolb could not have done a better job of casting the trio and instructing them in how best to simulate underwater movement (without the aid of the customary Heelys). Zehnpfennig and Bauer’s movements belied a strong dance background. And their supporting vocals during “Daddy’s Little Angel” were strong highlights of the first act.
The leading man, Cameron Liljekvist, was a huge and pleasant surprise as Prince Eric. I had been previously impressed by his talent last year in West Side Story at Conejo Players but it seemed as if he had grown in leaps and bounds ever since then. His vocals during “Her Voice”, “One Step Closer” and “If Only (Quartet)” stole Ariel’s heart and undoubtedly those hearts of the audience.
Other highlights from among the lead cast were local favorite Erin Fagundes who earned bellyaching laughs and applause for her joyful and hilarious performance as a female Scuttle, David Gilchrist who brought respectability to the show with his gentlemanly Grimsby, and John Gaston‘s rich and deep vocals during “If Only (Quartet)” caused one of the few chills of the day.
But we would be amiss not to mention the leading lady, Charlotte Green, a student at Moorpark High, who benefited from her being of the perfect age for the role and infectious charm and girlish delight. Green especially made this reviewer smile wide during her human scenes requiring her to be mute, aside from the adorable “Beyond My Wildest Dreams”. She was able to “express things [her] voice daren’t say” with her adorableness and sheer joy as Ariel.
Rounding out the leading cast was an adorable Theo Chambers (fresh off Conejo Players‘ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr.) as a teenage Flounders who perfectly conveyed his unrequited love for Ariel and did a fabulous job of “She’s In Love” with the talented Mersisters (Rebekah Fear, Amanda Benjamin, Asia Myra, Sophie Katz, Madeline Gambon, Maya Lipsig) and Noah Terry (who just directed Theo Chambers in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr.) as Chef Louis who had great physical comedy.
Mersister Rebekah Fear as the eldest sister Aquata got some of the best lines and did a fabulous job singing and performing puppetry at the same time during “Under the Sea”.
Other highlights from the Mersister sextet were Asia Myra and Maya Lipsig who also doubled as Maids during “Beyond My Wildest Dreams”.
In closing, I have to give a special shoutout to Costume Designers Raquel Karoly and Barbara Mazeika who did a fabulous job finding costumes for the whole cast that looked top rate. From the perfect mermaid costumes to the gorgeous gowns worn by the Princesses during “The Contest” to Sebastian’s fabulous ensemble.
If you are a fan of the beautiful dress Zoe Fagundes (Water Nymph) wore, you might like SAKKAS dresses on Amazon.
Director Marley-Kolb did a fabulous job incorporating the entire stage in her direction and also in making The Little Mermaid fresh for a new audience. Since community theatre productions cannot replicate the direction from the Broadway production they must rechoreograph and recreate iconic scenes such as the memorable bow Ariel learns in “One Step Closer” during the original Broadway production. Was that bow missed by this reviewer? During “One Step Closer” I’d have said yes but once Ariel stepped forward during “The Contest” I could only smile and much of that was due to Charlotte Green’s charm that Marley-Kolb capitalized upon.
Chris Bell (in his second season with HSAC) did a fabulous job especially turning High Street Arts Center’s intimate stage into an underwater cavern during Act One. For a non-equity regional production, the sets during Act One were top rate.
And for the most part, they were matched by Shara Abvabi‘s projection design. Unfortunately, a rather unfortunate timing during Act Two meant that the audience was witness to the cheap background cloth before the projection came on. Abvabi did do a great job with the projection of Ariel at the end of Act One and Ursula during the climax of Act Two.
FYI. The music was pre-recorded and provided by The MT PIT L.L.C.
The show runs until 17 November 2019. Based on today’s sold-out Sunday matinee, you are going to want to get your tickets FAST!
You will want to bring the kids with you to this charming production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Tickets range from $23-25 making it more affordable for an outing with the kids and an informal meet and greet after the show allows for young Ariels to take photos with their favorite stars.
Parental Warning: The mersisters are wearing very little more than a bra on top (doubling as shells) and while Ursula’s evil is a huge plot point it should not be visibly alarming. In fact, I heard a youngster ask “what’d she do?” after Ursula stole Ariel’s voice.
I was seated in the back row (K) in the left section. From my vantage point, it was easy to see all the action on stage but I did have trouble seeing the sailors during “Fathoms Below” who were positioned in the balcony on stage right due to poor lighting. Therefore, I would recommend sitting as close to the center as possible to get a better view.
For those with leg pain and difficulties such as myself, you’ll be happy to hear that the rows are spacious enough for others to walk around you causing no discomfort and allowing you to stretch your legs out during the show.
It does not seem that there are any more accessible seats to buy in Row L. However, if you can manage a tiny step leading into the rows and are able to leave your walker or wheelchair in the back of the auditorium, you should have little fear of needing to get up and down for your fellow theatrical patrons before and after the show due to the extra legroom.
The best option is to call the box office directly at (805) 529-8700.
The What, When and Where:
What: Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Non-Equity Community Theatre)
When: Now through 17 November 2019
Where: High Street Arts Center, 45 East High Street, Moorpark, CA 93021
Parking: Free (Accessible parking is available directly next to the theatre while general parking lot can be found across the street)
Tickets Can Be Bought Online.
Disclaimer: I received my tickets for review purposes but all opinions are my own.