The Little Proposal
The Cockpit in Court’s capable production of “The Little Mermaid” was delightfully punctuated by a surprise proposal during curtain call last Sunday night. After the bows and thunderous applause, Jim Baxter who plays Prince Eric stepped forward and proclaimed “If you’re lucky, most people get to fall in love once, maybe twice in their lifetimes.” He then proceeded to give one of the most heartwarming proposals this cold-hearted Grinch reviewer has ever seen, I hate to admit it but there was even a tear in my eye watching Allison Comotto (the actress who plays Ariel) slowly realize what was happening and tearfully accept the proposal. It was a perfect high note to end the evening on, and a wonderful story for them to tell their friends and family through the years.
Whether we’re familiar with the animated movie, the musical adaptation “Once on this Island”, or the original Hans Christen Anderson stor; we’ve all heard the tale of the mermaid who sacrifices her voice in order to win the love of a prince. While the stage adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” is definitely in need of a feminist update, the cast still manages to wring out a more progressive imagining of the tale. Underplaying the misogynistic themes and over playing the few feminist ones (I’m especially looking at you Ursula), and this was exactly the right way to go!
It’s never an easy task to bring an incredibly well known character to life, and Allison Comotto really nailed it. Allison Comotto’s voice was near pitch perfect the entire show, and her acting was just reminiscent enough of the film to play on nostalgia, but still mixed with her own interpretation to provide a fresh take. I will say that sometimes Comotto sang the songs rather than act them, a little more synergy between the two would have gone a long way. But even so she gave an impressive performance. Her biggest stand out moment for me was the opening of Act Two when she was learning how to walk. Her physical comedic timing was a masterclass in precision. Well done.
Playing her charming Prince Eric, and now fiancé, Jim Baxter did not quite add up to Comotto’s level of charm and talent. Seeming at times completely unaware that he was even doing a show, trying to believe Eric was in love with Ariel was like trying to believe that “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is going to be a good movie. However, having seen Mr. Baxter perform wonderfully in other shows (most notably as Moritz in Spring Awakening) I am 100% certain this was due to nerves about the impending marriage proposal. I’m certain his performance of the character is wonderful on any other night.
The other cast of characters performed ably, with a special standout from Derek Cooper as the showboating Sebastian. He controlled the audience in the palm of his hand with poise and charm. Another actor who stole the show every time they walked on stage was Holly Gibbs as the sinister and fierce Ursula. Ms. Gibbs’ performance was so titillating and convincing that I was rooting for Ursula to win her kingdom back the whole time. Delivering a delicate balance of Liza Minelli meets Ethel Merman, she was good old fashion Broadway bawdy!
The ensemble as a whole did a fine job of working their way through the choreography and musical score of the show. Sure there were some messy moments with poor technique or an off pitch, but overall I was quite impressed. I do have two words for the male ensemble members though, especially those in skin tight body suits: DANCE BELTS!
The outstanding technical elements combined with an Oscar winning score serve to create a fun, family friendly night at the theatre.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go for Ariel, stay for Ursula, and have a roaring good time at Cockpit in Court’s “The Little Mermaid.” It’s the perfect family show for you and your little ones! (B)
At CCBC Essex Through 8/5.