Audiences may wish they could be “part of that world” when they enter the Vam York Theater to escape to greater horizons with Ariel and Flounder, but they may be underwhelmed. The Gainesville Community Playhouse production of “The Little Mermaid” reminds audiences of the values and foundations community theater provides, but fails to provide quality.
“The Little Mermaid” is a musical version of the classic Disney tale of a girl who desires freedom from the sea and a chance at love in the human world. The Gainesville Community Playhouse rendition was a unique adaptation with a cohesive ensemble and colorful technical aspects that created the spectacle of the sea and the magic within.
The cast performed as a nice ensemble on the whole. The mermaid sisters were exceptional in their synced movements and choreography, as well as their harmonies. The group consisted of performers of all ages, which added variety and youth to their performance.
Anna Cappelli, a 21-year-old UF public relations senior, portrayed the role of Ariel with passion, heart and charm, but did not follow through on her vocal technique.
She sang the iconic solo “Part of Your World” with quite a bit of nasality, and lacked motivated movement, which made some of her choices unjustified.
The song is so iconic because Ariel is meant to take the audience on an emotional journey, and most are able to sympathize with wanting more from life. Yet Cappelli took the song to an emotional level of five out of 10. She — along with some of her castmates — did not execute her role with full commitment and presence because there was no thought process, nor were there truthful moments.
The same cannot be said for the evil, vindictive Ursula, portrayed by Susan Christophy. Christophy was extremely consistent with her presence and commitment to the actor's quartet: voice, body, emotion and intellect. Her moments were clear, her thought process was there and her vocal range was extensive. She knocked the other iconic solo “Poor Unfortunate Souls” out of the park.
Rikki Baynard and Brittany Kelly portrayed Ursula’s personal assistants Flotsam and Jetsam respectively with similar zest as Christophy. Their fluid body movements were informed and believable, and they had a nice vocal variety. They transformed themselves into evil eels in a way that suspended disbelief and brought the audience further into their world.
The technical aspects of the show were impressive given that community theaters typically have to improvise more than others to create a believable product that suspends the audience's disbelief. Christophy, in her second role as scenic designer, intelligently brought together a colorful set and projections that added texture and life to the stage.
One technical aspect of the show that was particularly alluring was that the actors would fly across the stage on cables to make believe they were flying or swimming to the surface of the ocean. This was one of the few moments in the show when actors fully engaged their bodies to communicate an idea.
Overall, the ensemble was at its strongest in the number “Under the Sea.” The actors seemed to have the most fun and make bold choices with the lyrics and choreography. Had this energy and engagement been consistent throughout the production, it could have created a stronger piece.
“The Little Mermaid” is showing Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until April 14.