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'Little Mermaid' flounders amiably at Wolf Trap

The Disney Company knows how to line their pockets. They carefully guard their most popular products, their movies, and string people along with countless related paraphernalia. Such is the case with the musical version of The Little Mermaid, which is visiting Wolf Trap this weekend. It has the big songs from the beloved movie, fleshed out into a merely adequate musical form (music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater). The audience on Thursday evening, not quite filling either the outdoor pavilion or the lawn of the Filene Center, went quiet or sang along to the movie songs they knew. During most of the rest, the children got restless and the adults chatted.

With the pleasant weather that evening, it was still a mostly enjoyable experience, especially during Act II when Miss Ionarts and I abandoned our seats in the pavilion, where the amplified sound was a little overwhelming, to sit at the top of the lawn and eat our rather expensive but deliciously cold frozen yogurt. Diana Huey belted believably in the title role, with enough enthusiasm for two lifetimes, matched nicely by Eric Kunze's Prince Eric. Arlington native Allen Fitzpatrick was a dry wit as the Prince's tutor, Grimsby, and Jennifer Allen stole the show as the evil sea witch Ursula, two parts drag queen. Melvin Abston's Sebastian got the most laughs.

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Keith Loria, ‘The Little Mermaid’ swims into Wolf Trap (Fairfax Times, June 30)
The movie's story is fleshed out a bit, as we learn that Ariel's father believes that humans killed Ariel's mother, making him distrust them, and Ursula is King Triton's sister, bitter that her parents favored her brother over her. The orchestral sound, mostly canned digital music, was a disappointment, especially as it was calibrated for the seats on the lawn, putting the sound inside the pavilion at almost an ear-splitting level.

The production, directed by Glenn Casale glows with neon colors (costumes by Amy Clark and Mark Ross; lighting by Charlie Morrison; scenic design by Kenneth Foy), with the chorus costumes recalling a Las Vegas floor show at times (choreography by John MacInnis). The problem of how to put a story taking place partly underwater is solved with some brilliant flying effects (choreographed by Paul Rubin), which when the actors wriggled in their flowing costumes made a fairly convincing imitation of swimming.

The Little Mermaid runs through July 2, in the Filene Center at Wolf Trap.

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