Review: “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”

What’s a community theatre to do when it wants to put on a large-scale family musical in the age of COVID? Well, if you’re Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions, you hire Scottie Woodard to direct the show and follow his lead in assembling a really creative design team and cast. Their production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid runs through September 26 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center.

The story of undersea Ariel falling for a land-living prince has been a kids’ favorite since the 1989 animated film. The stage show adds a few numbers (and pads its running time to two-and-a-half hours) but keeps all the favorite songs and characters. It’s usually produced on a large stage with a large cast, neither of which the relatively small Lucky Penny space can or, in these times, should accommodate.   

Kirstin Pieschke

There’s a small but magnificently detailed set by Brian Watson that transforms from a ship’s deck to an undersea Kingdom and its various lairs with relative simplicity, aided immensely by April George’s terrific lighting design. Music tracks are used in place of a live orchestra which, again, in these times is an understandable adjustment.

Woodard pared a listed-cast of twenty down to nine and assigned most of the cast members multiple roles. They also act as stagehands and, in some cases, puppeteers. Even the audience is recruited to safely participate in a large ensemble number.

Kirstin Pieschke makes for a charming Ariel and Tommy Lassiter is just fine as the typically bland but handsome Disney prince. Ariel’s friends Flounder, Sebastian, and Scuttle are portrayed by puppets that are manipulated and voiced by Michael Doppe, Chanel Tilghman, and the aforementioned Watson. As puppets, the characters lose some of their – for lack of a better word – humanity. While Watson’s Scuttle is appropriately silly and Doppe’s Flounder is lovingly earnest, I wish Tilghman’s Sebastian was bigger in voice and in personality. All are supported by a strong ensemble doing yeoman’s work. 

Woodard is also listed as choreographer and sound designer. The movement and hand-offs that occur onstage had to be challenges to come off as smooth as they do. Sound levels were an issue, however, particularly with Tayler Bartolucci’s Ursula. Ursula is a character you should not have a problem hearing.   

The show really comes alive in the ensemble numbers. The combination of voice, costume, lighting, prop design, and choreography (with audience participation) made “Under the Sea” a definite highlight.   

Minor performance and tech issues aside, if you’re looking to reward your kids for handling the last 18 months like champs, by all means pack ‘em up and head under the sea. Just don’t forget your masks!

’Disney’s The Little Mermaid’ plays through Sept. 26 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thursday – Saturday, 7pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25–$42. 707.266.6305. luckypennynapa.com

Proof of COVID vaccination and masking are required to attend.

Photos by Barry Martin

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.

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