Broadway of Branson had a VIP gala and premiere of Disney’s Little Mermaid at the White House Theatre this past Friday night. This was a Broadway stage production of the original 1989 animated feature movie. I was fortunate enough to have my friend, Randy Plummer escort me to the show and we arrived at the theatre just as the rain started coming down.
The lobby was buzzing with conversation and the sound of excited kids and adults who were anxious to see Ariel, Sebastian and Scuttle. There was at least one adorable girl dressed as her favorite mermaid and I saw many others with Ariel hair clips and bows. I even saw an adorable set of sisters that had on Little Mermaid flip flops.
We found our seats in the fairly large theatre and within minutes the music that we’re all familiar with filled the room and the lights dimmed. There was a lengthy delay without lights or music and I had to remind myself that this was opening night. Unfortunately, I kept having to remind myself of that fact, numerous times throughout the performance.
There were many, many positives in this show produced by Country Club Entertainment. But there were also many awkward moments during the night as microphone after microphone malfunctioned and timing between stage crew, actors, and lighting was out of sync more often than not. Even when the the actor’s microphones were on, there was a low hum and the occasional annoying screech of audio feedback. So, yeah, it was opening night. There were technical difficulties, I understand that.
What I don’t understand was a Broadway production without live music. We live in the “live entertainment” capital of the world and yet there wasn’t a musical instrument in the house. What I also didn’t quite get was the mermaid costuming and the fact that not everyone even had shoes. Quite a few of the characters including Ariel and Flounder were wearing tennis shoes with the roller balls in the bottom. I agree that it is a creative idea to make the mermaids and fish appear to be swimming rather than walking, but in reality, it didn’t work. I was also a little disturbed to see the undergarments of a few of the mermaids as their “tails” had apparently ripped enough of their costume to see beneath.
What really saved the show from being a disaster was the professional and talented performers that graced the stage. I would love at this point to give accolades to the performers and mention a few stand out actors who turned a mediocre production into an entertaining show. But, I can’t, because there was no program for the evening’s performance and when I asked for a listing of the cast, it was not made available. What a shame because they really do deserve all the credit.
The young woman that played Ariel was beautiful, acted well and sang with a voice that was perfectly suited for the famous Disney mermaid. Another actor that really stood out was the man who played Sebastian the crustacean sidekick and mentor. He played the role perfectly with a wonderful energy on stage and he displayed a powerful, but artful voice. One more actor that I thought was exceptional was the young man playing the chef that makes the romantic dinner for Ariel and Prince Eric. That particular scene was also one of the most polished and entertaining segments of the show. All of the cast actually did a fine job and it was their human contribution that made the show not a complete disaster.
A couple of other things that I want to mention that I liked very much were the LED screen and graphics that were used in the background. The scene where Prince Eric is thrown into the ocean and Ariel rescues him was brought to life with the help of technology. The next scene where the prince is being tended to on a beach, had moving ocean waves behind him that while not completely believable, did add a very nice visual effect. They used the LED screen and special effects during the dining room scene that gave the set depth and color. There were many colorful acts and I know that the kids in the audience probably enjoyed the bright colors.
One last mention is about costuming, once again. I have to say that as bad as the mermaid costumes were, Ursula was magnificent. She was bigger than life, scary, menacing and as villainous as any Disney character out there. The actress playing the part did an excellent job, even when she had no microphone and the stage hands who operated her tendrils were the most understated members of the troupe.
I still got teary-eyed at the end because mostly I’m just a big mushy-hearted softie. But the tears also told me that there was enough magic in this production to touch my heart and though I feel like they have room to grow, I think that with time, the show will improve. I’m glad to see a Broadway style production here in our little small town, but, someone needs to go to a real show and see how professional and grand they are when accompanied by a live orchestra and smooth directing.
One last disappointment was at the end of the night when several people waited for some kind of meet and greet with the cast. I know there were little kids in the audience that wanted to get an autograph or a special hug. Interaction with the audience is something that Branson is famous for and I was quite surprised when it was explained that Disney forbid the characters that particular interaction at the end of the night.
By the time the thousand or so people had made their way out of the theater and into the lobby, the horderves had finally been laid out in the lobby. Frankly, I thought they had simply forgotten them since food is usually served before a performance. Oh well, just chalk it up to opening night.
If you find yourself in Branson at any point in the summer and your kids are clamouring for a Disney show, take the hill off Hwy. 76 and then a quick right and you’ll find yourself at the White House theatre. The little ones will enjoy it and you will have some under-the-sea songs to hum while driving home.