From the moment the house lights dimmed and the curtain rose, the audience in attendance on opening night of Opera House Theatre Company‘s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid was transported into an underwater world of magical sea creatures and enchanting characters of all ages. From start to finish, the show captivated its audience with a glowing display of familiar music, eye-catching costumes and set design, and dazzling choreography.

Every Disney aficionado knows The Little Mermaid, a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen‘s 1837 fairytale: A mermaid princess, Ariel, falls in love with a human prince, Eric, and longs to be with him on the dry land. In order to realize this dream, she sells her voice to evil sea witch Ursula. Will she win a kiss from her prince to remain human with her true love, or will she be forced back to the ocean to be Ursula’s slave forever? We know the answer, of course, but that doesn’t prevent us from being fully engaged as the story unfolds on stage.

Ariel, expertly played by Mary Mattison, has a singing voice that exceeds expectations, even in a role of this magnitude. Her voice is pristine, powerful, and expressive. In fact, the talent level of all main cast members is impressive. But the only member to be on stage for the entire production is Flounder, Ariel’s best friend (played by Harrison Garrett, who stole the show each time he was front and center). His stage presence is striking, not just for a young actor, but for any actor. Garrett commanded the stage in “She’s in Love;” no small feat when surrounded by the beautiful and talented mersisters. Bianca Shaw, who plays Sebastian, deserves special recognition as well. She comically moved like a crab, and managed to provide the perfect facial expressions to have the audience laughing or tearing up in each of her scenes. Shaw delighted in “Under the Sea,” an audience favorite, and sang with raw emotion during “If Only,” a challenging number with four-part harmonies. Chad Hsu (Scuttle the Seagull), Heather Setzler (Ursula), and Kellen Hanson (Prince Eric) each charm the audience with their ability to fully embody their characters. Setzler’s rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was particularly entertaining, sinister yet fun.

One aspect of this production that makes it so special is the variety of ages within the cast. The company ranges from elementary-aged guppies, to teenage mersisters and sailors, to adult sea creatures. Each time the youngest actors were on stage, they charmed the audience with their antics, whether creating a visual sense of the sea by waving sheets of blue fabric from one end of the stage to the other or tumbling about as snails. But to call special attention only to the younger cast would be a disservice to the rest of the ensemble. Every dancing jellyfish, swashbuckling sailor, and sous chef, as in the cooking number “Les Poissons,” was a pure delight to watch. Director Sarah Rodgers had the challenging job of managing to make every cast member on stage shine, and she did it masterfully.

Tableaus created in each scene enhance the songs without overpowering the music, thanks in large part to the choreography by Jason Aycock and Brooklyne Williamson. “Kiss the Girl” was a perfect example this. On a stage filled with dancing animals, the focus was still on Ariel and Eric. Somehow the audience was able to soak up the magic of these brilliant creatures moving effortlessly across the stage while not losing sight of our lovers on a romantic boat ride. One may wonder why the boat is the child’s bed from the opening scene. We are in a story after all, and wouldn’t all imaginative readers pretend their beds are boats while engrossed in a good story? 

Kudos to the orchestra, directed by Brian Whitted, for providing flawless accompaniment throughout. They quite literally did not miss a beat. Though much of the dialogue and many of the lyrics are riddled with a hodgepodge of words, puns, and tongue twisters, the audience didn’t miss any of it thanks to the expertise of sound designer Christopher Dean. The costumes, designed by Juli Harvey, are stars in their own right, each one a delight for the eyes, while allowing for fluid movement (each sea urchin and shark alike not only dance but entertain with acrobatics as well). Ursula’s costume, in particular, is stunning. In addition to squid legs sewn to her skirt, part of the ensemble moves with her to create the illusion of extra arms. The set, designed by Terry Collins, is easily and cleverly maneuvered by characters on stage as scenes transition. The audience is easily transported from a child’s bedroom during the overture, as each character is introduced in toy form, to an underwater world where Ariel and her friends live and play. Prince Eric’s ship is moved aside to become Ariel’s lair, but the backdrop of a child’s storybook remains the same throughout, reminding us we are indeed in the middle of a wonderful story.

Despite an opening night hiccup involving a costume change and a sound foible at the end, the cast brought the show home with the finale our audience had waited for: a wedding, a happy ending, and smiles all around.

The Little Mermaid continues through Sunday, August 6. For more details on this production please view the sidebar.