The Little Mermaid, Bass Concert Hall, through Oct. 4
What makes mermaids so fascinating? Little girls want to be one, women occasionally want to look like one, and men just want one. (There are two kinds of guys in the world – ones who had a serious case of the hots for Darryl Hannah in Splash, and the ones who lied about it to their wives and girlfriends.)
Mermaids have always been portrayed as sexy, mysterious, and enchanting. The Sirens that drove Odysseus crazy were a variation on legends of sea-dwelling women who could entice human men with their beauty and voice, and the fact that mermaids almost always have their comely human anatomy covered (if at all) only by seashells or their flowing hair hasn’t diminished their appeal.
Spoilsports who try to explain away legends say sailors’ tales of beautiful women with tails might be the manatee, or sea cow. You’d have to be at sea a really long time to confuse a sea cow with Daryl Hannah, though, or with the lovely Ariel, the heroine of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale.
The Little Mermaid was published in 1837 as part of a collection of stories that also included The Princess and the Pea and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Like the earlier tales spun by a couple of German brothers, Andersen’s original mermaid story was a bit (ahem) grim. The Sea Witch cuts out her tongue, gives her a potion to make her human that feels like a sword has been run through her, and every step she dances on her new feet feels like she’s stepping on knives.
Oh, and she also doesn’t get the Prince in the end.
Enter the Mouse.
Over a century and a half later, Disney cleaned up the story and cleaned up at the box office with the 1989 animated film version of The Little Mermaid. (1984’s Splash was also based on Andersen’s tale, with a sweet twist on the end and a nude-from-the-rear shot of Daryl Hannah that settled any anatomical reservations about falling in love with a mermaid.)
Splash was the debut film of Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, and Mermaid revived the Mouse Kingdom’s flagging fortunes in animated full-length films. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King followed, and Disney turned both of them into successful musicals that overhauled Broadway in the 1990s, as an institution and as a street.
The Mermaid musical seemed like a shoo-in to follow in their paw prints, but debuted alongside the 2008 economic bust and was history by the summer of 2009. It was resurrected in 2012 for a Dutch tour, with new songs and staging, and the refurbished version is now Disney’s licensed touring production, running through October 4 at UT’s Performing Arts Center.
The Bass Concert Hall Mermaid stage is a riot of underwater color and movement – think Esther Williams on hallucinogens. One 2012 improvement over the original production is aerial work to simulate swimming, and any of the underwater folks who aren’t swimming are undulating gently in place.
Alison Woods dives right into Ariel’s skin – er, scales – and Jennifer Allen as Ursula the Sea Witch would almost steal the show if Melvin Abston’s Sebastian the Rastafarian Crab didn’t snatch it away with one of his claws during the hilarious Under the Sea calypso number.
If you’re of the guy persuasion, chances are you’re in the audience because either your significant other or your young daughter – or both – wanted to see the show. (Opening night had moms in flowing mermaid gowns, with tiny girls in full-blown mermaid regalia.)
Don’t worry – you’ll love it.
Wait and sea.
Showtimes and tickets at www.TexasPerformingArts.org