Right after attending a piano masterclass, I was able to chat with a friend, pianist Dingdong Fiel and I found out that he would be one of the keyboardists for Atlantis Productions’ staging of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Meralco Theater. This musical, adapted from the classical animated film, made a splash months ago when it was announced that recording artists Rachelle Ann Go and Erik Santos were cast as Ariel and Prince Eric respectively. Thanks to Dingdong, I was able to see how these two pop stars fared in their theatrical debut during the preview night of the musical.
Rachelle Ann Go was a perfect fit for the role of Ariel to the point that it’s very difficult to imagine someone else playing the part. The memorable song Part of Your World seemed to be tailor made for her. She was Ariel and Ariel was her, period. Erik on the other hand needed more princely conviction in tackling his role that didn’t have as much meat compared to Ariel. But he delivered his solo number Her Voice with relative ease reminding me that he is first and foremost a singer who is still trying to find his way into acting. But it was Jinky Llamanzares as Ursula who showed the two how musical theater is done. Her years of experience in both the local and international stage resulted in Jinky’s Ursula all but stealing the show. She was nasty, seductive, witty and she seemed to possess an infinite bag of vocal tricks.
The musical, directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga also featured OJ Mariano as Sebastian, Lee Villoria as Flounder, Enrique Canoy as Scuttle, Calvin Millado as King Triton, Felix River and Jamie Barcelon as Flotsam and Jetsam respectively, Raymond Concepcion as Grimsby and Juliene Mendoza as Chef Louis. The musical had choreography by Cecile Martinez, set design by Lex Marcos, costume design by Erik Pineda, lighting design by Jay Aranda, puppetry design and execution by Liz and Benny Batoctoy and Sam Fuentes, and vocal coaching by ManMan Angsico.
There is no doubt that vocally, the cast was top notch. The set design, costumes and the props were satisfactory knowing that local productions do not have the same budgets as the original productions in Broadway or in West End. But I did have some reservations regarding the material itself. The musical adaptation had 10 additional songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright. I think that the film didn’t translate well on the stage and that the changes made in the ending weren’t enough to affect me. There wasn’t enough urgency or sense of danger during the final confrontation that should have left me at the edge of my seat. I also think that my age manifested itself when I found myself cringing regarding the subplot about Prince Erik and his obligation to find a wife and get married before a certain date. I guess that I don’t believe in fairytales anymore and that I've grown cynical with age. And also, the new songs didn’t capture the magic that Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman did with the original soundtrack. After the musical, I wasn’t able to recall any of the tunes of the new songs since they were that forgettable. The changes made to Under the Sea like raising the key with Sebastian belting was too over the top and that lost the charm of the original for me. Still, with a material that didn’t prove to be a total hit for me, the cast and crew, as well as the rest of the production still managed to deliver a noteworthy staging of this musical. I expect that I will be in the minority and that most people will be singing praises for this production like the celebrities who were present during the preview night like Markki Stroem, Stephanie Dan, Pilita Corales and Jackie Lou Blanco.
|Markki Stroem interviewed after the show|
Atlantis Productions’ staging of Disney’s The Little Mermaid is made possible through a special licensing agreement with Music Theatre International.