New York, November 24, 2011 -- Manila-based theater company Atlantis Productions Inc.'s Asian premiere of Disney's The Little Mermaid could have been a spectacular float addition in today's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Times Square.
One shouldn't wonder at Atlantis' Disneyesque feat because The Little Mermaid's co-director, Bobby Garcia (the other director is Chari Arespacochaga), happened to work at Disneyland Hong Kong as its entertainment director when the theme park opened in 2005. Needless to say, working on Disney theatrical materials is second nature to Garcia by now.
The original Broadway production of Disney's The Little Mermaid, based on the 1989 2D animated film, which boasts the popular songs "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," and "Kiss the Girl," created by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, opened at Lunt-Fontane Theatre in 2008 and ran nearly 700 regular performances. Additional 10 songs, co-written by Menken and Glenn Slater, and a book by Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright have been incorporated into the stage adaptation, which garnered generally mixed reviews from critics.
Broadway's The Little Mermaid had starred the talented, incandescent Sierra Boggess in the title role (Ariel); while Manila's production has found a new ingénue in strong pop singer Rachelle Ann Go. Tony Award-winning actress Lea Salonga, who's also a columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, only had praises and raves for Go's opening night (November 18) performance, "As for Go, I don't know that the superlatives in my vocabulary could cover just how wonderful I thought she was. Bundles of charm oozed from her, as well as an easy sense of humor and adventure. Her voice was also a great mix of that clean and pristine Disney sound, plus a deep pop sensibility that made this score (and her Ariel) accessible to everyone. She was a perfect Ariel, and her portrayal will only continue to deepen and improve. She blew me away on opening night."
Other standouts are powerful female vocalist Jinky Llamanzares as the evil sea witch, Ursula and 2011 BroadwayWorld Philippines Awards' nominee OJ Mariano as the red Jamaican crab, Sebastian; as well as Eric Pineda's around 150 gorgeous and intricate costumes whose unique Asian touches had to be approved by Disney Theatrical Group, no less. Go's Ariel wears a pair of giant seashell sleeves that resembles the typical Filipiniana terno's large, puffed sleeves. On the other hand, Calvin Millado's King Triton, the Sea King and Ariel's father, dons a traditional Balinese royal costume.
On the other hand, what the production lacks in expensive set pieces and flying harnesses, which are common currency in Broadway musicals nowadays, it makes up for with puppeteer-actors, who control wayang or shadow puppets, bunraku or traditional Japanese puppets, and nang kaloung or Cambodian puppets during certain parts of the show. By the way, merfolks are not strapped on rollerblades in this production!
Go, Llamanzares, Mariano, and Millado are joined by Erik Santos as Prince Eric (his professional musical theater debut), Lee Villoria as Flounder, Enrique Canoy as Scuttle, Felix Rivera as Flotsam, Jamie Barcelon as Jetsam, Raymond Concepcion as Grimsby, and Juliene Mendoza as Chef Louis.
The Little Mermaid also features choreography by Cecile Martinez, set design by Lex Marcos, lighting design by Jay Aranda, puppetry design and execution by Liz and Benny Batoctoy and Sam Fuentes, projection design by GA Fallarme, musical direction by Ceejay Javier, vocal coaching by Manman Angsico, and production management by Liza Camus.
Catch the show's last three weeks (it runs until December 11) at Meralco Theater. For tickets, visit www.atlantisproductionsinc.com.
Photos by Jaime Unson