The Little Mermaid
Thu Jan 17 2008
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Why can’t Julie Taymor direct all the Disney musicals? The multiculti puppet queen’s influence is all over The Little Mermaid, the latest Broadway venture by the House of Mouse. And while director Francesca Zambello made a strong first move by hiring visionary set designer George Tsypin to take us “under da sea,” neither she nor her crew could transform Disney’s childish hokum into a spectacle as moving as The Lion King.
You know the plot of the 1989 favorite: Fin-bottomed teen Ariel (Boggess) falls for hunky human Prince Eric (Sean Palmer), incurring the wrath of her father King Triton (Norm Lewis, scarily animatronic). Ariel signs a contract with wicked sea-witch Ursula (Scott, camping it up shamelessly), who gives her legs but takes away her voice; if she can get Eric to kiss her, she gets the legs, the boy and more American Idol–level belting numbers.
The source material is both the greatest draw and drawback for these cartoon-to-musical contraptions. As multimillion-dollar children’s theater, The Little Mermaid is passable, but adults will pine for a wizard like Taymor to inject art. A wholesale rewrite of the lame jokes and thin characters is out of the question, so librettist Doug Wright’s efforts are purely cosmetic. The tunes by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (with added lyrics by Glenn Slater) are likewise sonic window dressing. Tsypin’s hypnotic sculptural installations provide plenty of eye candy, but this show is strictly for the kiddie crowd—and the girlie side of that. We’ll see whether Disney nets a big haul in the pretween waters or just flounders in the shallows.