The Little Mermaid Beyond the Sea, by Cathy Lee-Visscher and The Pantoloons, based on the Walt Disney film and a story by Hans Christian Anderson, Directed by Cathy Lee-Visscher. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman,
"Maybe I should just play koi." "A - balone!"
Sam Reilly as Ariel; Cathy Lee-Visscher as Aunt Ethel; photo: Kelly Mackerer
If you love puns and song parody and Disney movie take-offs, if you enjoy men dressing as women and women dressing as fish, if the concept of the Pantomime, the British format of theater fun, then get yourself over to the Ghent Playhouse in the next two weeks and see "The Little Mermaid Beyond the Sea," this year's entry in the annual Panto presentation in the Berkshire region. Even if you don't like any of the things sited above, go anyway. A good laugh is a good laugh and a lot of that is what we all need right now. Especially when King Triton is fish-perfect Trump.
Mark Wilson plays Triton, gesture perfect and vocal attitude delicious as the current White House Resident. You will recognize every wavy-washy statement he makes, every minnowesque observation, each eel-like transition that comes his way. Wilson is at his very best in this role and if he was funnier you'd still think him oceanic in his interpretation.
As his secret paramour is Cathy Lee-Visscher as Aunt Ethel, actually Triton's sister-in-law and the adoring aunt of Triton's daughter, the discontented red-haired mergirl Ariel who is about to turn into a legal seafood. Visscher has some deep-fried moments in this show and when she breaks into night-club song "I Need to Snag a Merman" (the melody is "I Get a Kick Out of You") you know where this Ethel is going. But this blue whale is not the villain of the show, she's the other heroine and her desires are equitable.
The villainous villainess is Ursula, the Sea-Witch, played with delicious irony by Monk (Fish) Schane-Lydon who throws his bulky costume to the tides as Ursula decides when and how to destroy Ariel and win the Prince. . or the King for herself. Schane-Lydon is hilarious in this show, rather like watching a Siamese Fighting Fish confront a mirror: you know the fight is pointless from the beginning but the single-mindedness is hilarious.
Joanne Maurer, whose costumes here are splendid, plays both a flounder and the grandmother reading the story to children. She is, as ever, superb and so are her costume designs. Sally McCarthy who usually plays a man, plays one here: Grimbsy, the Prince's valet. She is very very good, but a bit wasted in this smaller role. She is also a singing eel, whose big number is accompanied by singing clams - didn't you always think they could sing?
Prince Eric is a lovely human among all these assorted fish and as played by Meaghan Rogers he is also a delightful young man whose romantic feelings toward Ariel allow him to take to the water by the end of the show in a very catfish-like garb.
Ariel's best friend, Sebastian T. Crab, wanders the bottom of the sea commandeered by Emily Spateholts who is just great in this role. She has some of the best moments in the first half of the show as Sebastian debates his role in Ariel's big adventure, thrown up on shore.
It is Sam Reilly as Ariel who steals the show. I remember going to a restaurant in Turkey some years back and entering the building through a landed sea of fine fish, but none so fine as Reilly's Ariel. She is a beauty with a fine figure for a fish, wonderful scales and singing wonderful scales, making the occasional barracuda moué and living her life to the widest expanse of pond as possible. As good as everyone else in the company may be, Ariel is the fish you watch and Reilly makes her as memorable as a fine tartar sauce.
Lee-Visscher, Reilly, Spateholts and Wilson cavort under the sea with the strength of a school of salmon while the rest of the cast swim alongside, following in the wake of the sea-witch, all of them becoming virtual starfish. On the superb Reilly-created set in the sweet and hilarious costumes by Maurer, well-lit by Isabel Filkins, the Panto is alive and gill-breathing in Ghent and I couldn't be happier. Bring on the sauce, er. . . show and hold the potatoes! For at least 90 minutes a night these fish are just to good to fry.
The Little Mermaid Beyond the Sea, plays through December 10 at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY. For information and tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or go on line at ghentplayhouse.org.