Family-oriented shows about life at sea usually exude "boy appeal" - tall ships, pirates and swords. But "The Little Mermaid" is an aquatic fairytale that's all about romance. Early on, our teenage mermaid glimpses of a handsome fella on a ship, who turns out to be a prince. And like most eligible princes, he's looking for that special someone.
Prince: "Where am I going to find her, Grimsby? A girl that's as alive and as carefree as the sea itself? Where?"
Suddenly, the prince hears the mermaid singing (Mermaid: "Ahhhh Ahhhhhh!") and he's hooked.
Prince: "Now follow that voice, to the ends of the earth, if we have to!"
With that pledge, we're off to a deep sea realm where colorfully costumed sea creatures of every description swim constantly across the stage, telling corny jokes and singing. Be aware that this stage version contains twice as many songs as the film, and runs about an hour longer. And in case you hadn't guessed, the Little Mermaid is every bit as focused on meeting her prince as he is determined to find her.
Mermaid, singing: I don't know when, I don't know how, but I know something's starting right now…"
Yes, it's love, between two young people who would ordinarily never meet. You could call it "Cinderella with fins." The Little Mermaid also has some teenage rebellion issues with her father, the sea god Triton, adding a parental dimension.
Since the story is very easy to follow, there's time to enjoy this show's colorful sets and abundant costumes, like the glittering fish scales draped around constantly-flexing, acrobatic dancers. Or the four tap-dancing seagulls. Or the villainous witch with puckery green tentacles.
As for the songs, they're ok… and the is actually quite good. But ultimately, "The Little Mermaid" is mostly about eye-candy, and a fabled romance in which the fulfillment of true love get postponed for a while - about 19 songs, to be exact -- but ultimately reigns supreme.
So how does The Little Mermaid stack up against other Disney-gone-Broadway shows like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King? Well it suffered from an ailing economy when it debuted on Broadway in 2008, but if you'll pardon the pun, I think "The Little Mermaid" has legs. The retooled version we are seeing in Sacramento very likely points to a successful American tour in the future.