October 31, 2019
Where land meets sea, the fun and adventure run rampant
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Opening its 2019-2020 season with a Disney blast from the past, Class Act Productions (CAP) of Altoona the timeless allure of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. This marks the third time this show has been presented and, if a packed house is any indication, its appeal has not gone out with the tide. This show was as animated as Sebastian after ten cups of coffee…or, from a younger perspective, children after indulging in a basketful of Halloween candy.
Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, Disney’s spin blends intrigue, fantasy, aspirations and more around our central figure, the mermaid Ariel, favored and youngest daughter of Triton. Her petulant attitude foreshadows the troublesome adventures she will carry us on as she defies her father in a quest to find a happiness she can’t quite identify. Buoyed by her besties, Sebastian the cantankerous crab and Flounder the timid clown fish, she strikes out to quell that illusive unrest deep within her heart and spirit. After Ariel identifies her true love as a human (gasp), she is deceived by her conniving aunt, Ursula. Add several micro-dramas as goals strived for are thwarted, reconciliation with father and daughter, and a happy ending for all.
When folks hear that CAP is a teaching theatre, they immediately think, “ah, yes, they are teaching the participating students about performing.” That is just the tip of the creative iceberg, the “CAP,” if you will. Yes, participating students are introduced, through the allure of theatre, lifelong positive attributes such as discipline, teamwork, perseverance, building skills, and more. The learning also spills over to the parents and families. These joyous enablers are intricate parts of each production, helping direct, crew, construct, usher, manage and otherwise provide the bigger framework for the show. Teaching continues to the audience, as the energy within this intimate, friendly performing venue is palpable. Audiences understand the genuine buy-in for this safe haven of creative processing. And, they walk away from each show with an appreciation for such a worthy program.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr is an honest, energized show. It’s not perfect, but everyone stumbles when learning to roller skate. What is delivered is honest, refreshingly charismatic family shows which often have flashes of good acting. Follow this company long enough, and one notices certain regular performers improving, achieving greater skills. This show is anchored by some experienced talent.
Complete with bright red Ariel wig, Grace Harvey gives a soulful delivery of the title role, shifting between petulance to naïve delight to heart-smitten longing for “a human,” Prince Eric (given fine presence by Hank Jones). Harvey delivers Ariel’s signature “Under the Sea” with a sweet, crystal clear voice. Thoroughly delighting with his crackly, whimsical voice as Scuttle, the gull, is Drew Dawson. He holds nothing back, giving the audience all the whacky fun of his facially-facile role, especially in “Human Stuff,” backed by a trio of Andrews Sisters-like gulls. As Sebastian, the unwilling, always bemoaning guardian of Ariel, Ian McGovern’s constant opining, grousing and resignation fully capture the audience’s attention. Alison Keeler balances all of the goody-goody stuff with her diabolical Ursula, the conniving evil sister of Ariel’s father, Triton (regally played by August Nau). The poised Keeler belts her Act I closing song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” with a rich, smarmy voice, nuanced through her undulating mannerisms, giving the audience a strong foreshadowing of wicked things to come. Add a bevy of dedicated sea creatures who also double, sometimes triple, as other characters, and this show is a pure jolt of youthful exuberance and performance eye candy. Broadway? Not CAP’s intention. They deliver very nicely on their mission, and any audience member not touched by the open honesty of every production member’s commitment to this show must have an old barnacle for a soul.
Add some creative scenic design work, including large panels that flip to reveal other locations, some truly delightful and colorful costuming, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr is a show that should be on every family’s list of experiences to share. CAP adds community investment elements to each show, as profits from on-site contributions support local nonprofits. This show is raising money for the DNR’s clean water program – a fitting aquatically themed beneficiary. So, pull the children away from the electronics, and give them the gift of a shared, live performing arts experience. And, for any parent, grandparent or good friend, enjoy the vicarious journey to a musical, imaginary land that will leave a lasting smile on everyone’s face.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional critics, to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.theculturebuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment show, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.