by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
“The Little Mermaid?” Oh, yeah. I remember that, the mermaid that wants to be with the human prince, with the singing crab under the sea, and the octopus lady, and…Wait! That was the Disney version! Visalia’s Enchanted Playhouse is presenting a musical a lot closer to the story that Hans Christian Andersen wrote in the 1800s.
Eric Stedman wrote this adaptation, and there are some modifications to the original tale, including a mer-man nerd in an argyle sweater-vest, Dylan (Evan Borboa). Andersen’s nameless sea witch has a name, Crustacea (Carrie Murphy), and a sidekick, an oily eel in black played with slithery, smarmy charm by young Jacob Budz. Spyglass (Michael Murphy), a briny sea captain and friend of the handsome prince portrayed sturdily by Michael Callender, warns the audience that stories don’t always end happily, to prepare the children in attendance for an ending that stays admirably close to the Danish original.
Marina, the title character (Allison Enos), is a petite powerhouse, giving a dynamic performance, especially when the sea-girl suffers from witch-induced laryngitis and must pantomime her dialogue. (Did you know that Andersen’s original mermaid sacrifices her voice, too, but her tongue is cut out by the sea-sorceress?) This mermaid manages to acquire a cute sidekick, Toby the Baby Seal (Alexandra Milliorn-Feller), who somehow manages to be cutesy and bubbly with swim fins on her hands.
Besides Enos and Budz, a number of cast members give standout performances. Carrie Murphy’s underwater hag had the intensity of a Bradley fighting vehicle and the smooth menace of a nuclear sub. Jennifer Cawley (Grandmother) provided a comforting presence of mature caring, and Samantha Muse (Naia) provided sometimes wise, older-sisterly advice. Among the princesses panting for the attentions of the prince, the not-so-demure stylings of Allison Wahlen create a country-western steamroller in the Minnie Pearl mold.
The undersea sequences really shine and show off Barbara Smith’s costume designs and the puppets, a corps of creatures that add life to the action. Fish and crustaceans flit over, around, and through the scenery, providing rhythm accompaniment to the songs; the shellfish are quite musical (Did someone say Rock Lobster?) Some of the puppets (an angler fish and a pair of paranoid clams) were created by Carrie Murphy (Is there anything she doesn’t do?). After the show, parents may have to delicately explain that those weren’t “real” animals…or give in and go to the nearest pet store and buy an aquarium.
Tim Budz and Donald Williams admirably guided the cast in staging and character development. The scientific fact that sound is amplified in water may explain why the songs under the sea seem more vibrant than those sung on land. After the show, be sure to stick around so your children can meet the performers and get some signatures on the autograph page thoughtfully provided in the program.
The Enchanted Playhouse performs in the Main Street Theater at 307 Main Street in Visalia. Tickets are $7, and evening performances on Fridays and Saturdays are at 7 p.m. through February 18, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee on February 12.
Watch for another Local Live every Wednesday at 7 p.m.!
P.S.—For a special treat before or after the play, go next door to the Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant for good food in a festive atmosphere that reminds me of a walk down old Olvera Street in Los Angeles.