November 20, 2011
When I heard that pop stars Rachelle Ann Go and Erik Santos were going to play Ariel and Prince Eric in this musical theater version of Disney's "The Little Mermaid," honestly I thought it was a bad idea. After Christian Bautista's not too auspicious stage debut in "West Side Story", I thought this was not really a good idea too. I forget now exactly why I decided to buy tickets on impulse for the whole family for this back in August, maybe it was just because I thought this would be a musical that my kids would know and appreciate.
The events unfold exactly like they did in the movie. The five main songs in the original movie, namely "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," "Les Poissons" and "Kiss the Girl" are all here. The songs of the crab Sebastian were especially accompanied by very colorful and elaborate props and costumes. The best one for me is "Kiss the Girl" both visually (complete with puppet marsh birds) and vocally (with the intricate vocal arrangement). However, I felt the "Les Poissons" number did not really come off too well as "humor" felt forced and execution was flat.
There were also variations in the story telling at the end on how Ursula was finally defeated. I guess there had to be adjustments made for the feasibility of stage production. Of course, there also had to be additional songs to tell other parts of the story. However, the only new song that made any significant impression on me was Ursula's first solo, "I Want the Good Times Back," because of its catchy cabaret-type tune and the pizzazz of the singer. The songs of the annoying seagulls and of sprightly little Flounder did not really stick with me, being too Playhouse Disney in character.
Rachelle Ann Go was very successful in this, her debut theater venture. She had the same pretty look (though not the red hair) and perky vibrant demeanor as her feisty cartoon counterpart. More importantly, she had a wonderfully rich theater voice! I look forward to seeing her in other theater projects. Erik Santos also had a strong voice but he had some minor pronunciation and accent problems in some parts, things that could get smoother as their run continues. He lacks stage presence though and does not really stand out when there are several men onstage. I do not know if that is a problem with the actor himself or just his nondescript ponytail hairstyle and bland costumes. His solo number "Her Voice" was a low point in the show because of the unusually bare stage which Erik could not command.
The supporting characters though are amazing! Jinky Llamanzares as Ursula is an exceptional standout because of her very strong vibrant voice, sassy stage presence, as well as her impeccable English. The other standout is OJ Mariano as Sebastian. Ok, his red costume was very corny and hardly looked like a crab, but his vocals were flawless in his two main songs, especially "Kiss the Girl". He has really gone a very long way from "The Singing Bee." Calvin Millado also had great vocals as King Triton, but he was also hampered by an ill-fitting unattractive costume that emphasized his heft. His make-up made him look like John Sweet Lapuz from afar. Haha! The guys who played the eels Flotsam (Felix Rivera) and Jetsam (Jaime Barcelon) also had their moment with their featured song "Sweet Child."
After the play, I have to be honest and say my kids did not really enjoy it too much, not even my daughter who is 11. My boys (age 10 and 8) don't even remember the animated movie on which this musical was based on anymore. I guess they are all too jaded already for this "baby" stuff, what with all the "cooler" high-action cartoons that come out each year. However, the other children in the audience, especially the little girls, seem to all love it. As far as we adults are concerned, we were more focused on the singing and the sets more than anything else. As for me, this may well already be the last musical for aimed for young children we would watch. We have to be more discriminating already with the plays we will watch with the children, lest we be accused to be too kiddie and uncool. I would advise for future adult viewers not to expect too much and just sit back to enjoy this very juvenile ride with their younger kids.
"The Little Mermaid" will continue to play at the Meralco Theater on weekends up to December 11, 2011. This special musical production of "The Little Mermaid," the first one granted outside Broadway, is directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga for Atlantis Productions.