StoryBook Theater has taken the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, and the Disney movie by the same name and made it their own – giving the audience of children a choice about the ending.
In all three stories, the mermaid, here named Serena, longs to know more about the human world and to grow legs and dance. Visiting the surface, she sees a handsome prince, falls in love and then rescues him from a shipwreck. She agrees to become a human in exchange for giving up her voice, knowing that if the prince does not fall in love with her and marry her, she will die.
Andersen has her die and turn into sea foam when the prince marries another; Disney has her father save her and give her permission to become human. In StoryBook's production, the prince chooses the Princess Adelaide, and Serena realizes her mistake. The children are asked whether she should get another chance. In the performance we attended, they all said "yes" and she once again swam with her family as a beautiful mermaid.
The most charming and funny change from the movie and book is that the sea witch, who turns the mermaid human and takes her voice, is a giant, two-headed orange sea-slug with multiple suckers. Mother-daughter actresses Faith and Sarah Russell play the two sides of the sea slug – the dumb one and the smart one – and they had the audience laughing at their hilarious facial contortions and actions, especially when the dumb one keeps slapping her own face and getting the sucker stuck on it. They use a salvaged i-pod to hear the "spell" that sends Serena to the surface. It's worth going to the play just to see them.
All of the other professional actors/singers/dancers do a wonderful job creating an undersea world. The scene changes are made by turning the pages of a giant storybook at the back of the stage. Costumes are dazzling and intricate. One casting decision was odd – having the same beautiful young woman play Princess Adelaide and the mermaid's grand-mere. The long silvery wig didn't do anything to make her look older; my 5-year-old companion was confused about who she was.
Oh, the blunt honesty of a 5-year-old girl. She liked almost everything about the musical play. When I asked her if there was anything she didn't like, she promptly answered, "The prince." When asked what she didn't like about him, she replied, "He was funny-looking and had an accent" (a slight British accent, I think). There's no pleasing everyone.
At the end of the play, the cast members answered lots of questions from the audience, including how they change costumes so quickly and how the prince stood so still when he was a statue. The children got to meet the actors and have their programs signed. If you have a child who loves to dress up as a princess, this is a good occasion for it; several of the girls in attendance did so and received copious compliments from the cast members.
A Little Mermaid, at 55 minutes long, is best for children ages 3 to 8. The princess angle is by no means overdone, and boys will enjoy the show as much as girls will.
IF YOU GO
Where: Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland; and the Museum of History and Industry, 2700 24th Ave. E., Seattle.
When: May 5- 6 and 12-13 in Kirkland; May 20 at the Museum of History and Industry; 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; all May 13 performances are ASL interpreted.
Admission: $10 for all ages.
Coming Up: StoryBook Theater, a division of Studio East, begins its fall season of theater for younger children with The 3 Pigs in October. Studio East Mainstage in Kirkland presents Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for ages 9 and older May 4-6 and Disney’s My Son Pinocchio for ages 5 and older May 25-June 17.
Wenda Reed is a Seattle-area writer and theater-lover.