Review: Syracuse Stage’s “The Little Mermaid” is a must-sea holiday show

Review: "The Little Mermaid" is a must-sea holiday show

The Disney classic is making a splash with aeriel aerobics, vivacious performances and glittering costumes.
Published: December 5, 2022
'The Little Mermaid' at the Syracuse Stage.
'The Little Mermaid' will be at the Syracuse Stage until Jan. 8.

It’s a pivotal scene in Disney’s The Little Mermaid– Prince Eric is drowning and is about to be saved by a spunky red-headed mermaid named Ariel. But in Syracuse Stage’s production, Eric is flying. He’s twisting and twirling on a rope high above the stage, emulating the unpredictability of the sea.

The musical expands on the 80 minutes animated film by injecting new music, depth, and personality to the story of Ariel. Combined with aerial acrobatics, vivacious performances, and stunning costumes, The Little Mermaid is a must-sea show for the holiday season (“Fish puns? Aren’t we better than that?” Ariel’s sister asks. Apparently not.)

This is Syracuse Stage’s second collaboration with 2 Ring Circus after their 2017 production of the Wizard of Oz. It’s the first time The Little Mermaid has been performed with aerial acrobatics and circus skills, according to director Melissa Rain Anderson in a press release. While it could be a challenge to enliven such a well-known tale, the constant parade of bright sea creatures, swans, and crustaceans dancing, flipping, and defying gravity in heart-shaped hoops never dips in energy or feels dull.

The bubbly spirit of the show is also due to the outstanding performances that are anything but two-dimensional. Katie Emerson plays Ariel with a perfectly princess-y tone and so much expression that even when the mermaid loses her voice, she captivates the audience. As her sisters croon the song “She’s in Love,” Ariel breaks out into dance, and even flosses and pretty well for someone without feet. Emerson’s silly and awkward performance feels accurate to a 16-year-old girl (fish?) experiencing first love while also creating an arc of naivety to a girl who can save herself.

Ariel’s friends Jay Owens as Sebastian, Sean Bell as Scuttle, and Thomas Riggelman as Flounder also gave noteworthy performances. Owens led his “hot crustacean band” with star power in the song “Under the Sea” and delivered Sebastian’s lines with the perfect amount of anxiety for a crab tasked to look after King Triton’s rebellious daughter.

“Water all around you, and you still gotta play with fire,” Sebastian says.

In a hilarious scene with Chef Louis (Ben Franklin), Sebastian almost becomes dinner in order to talk to Ariel as she is dining with Prince Eric. The result is a scene of absolute chaos that actually likely took hours of choreography to precisely execute. 

The Little Mermaid expands on the character of Scuttle, the seagull in desperate need of a dictionary, with the song “Positoovity” which features an elaborate tap dance number. Bell really shines when Scuttle breaks the 4th wall telling the audience bad jokes and begging them to feed the birds.

Ursula (Crystal Sha’nae) received ravenous applause before she even lifted a tentacle. Sha’nae reveled in her character’s villainy, each line dripping in hatred.

“There’s only one thing more potent than my black magic,” Ursula says.

“The power of true love?” Her eels, Flotsam and Jetsam ask.

“Teenage hormones,” she replies.

'The Little Mermaid' at the Syracuse Stage.
Katie Emerson as Ariel and Thomas Riggelman as Flounder bring the iconic duo to life.

The song “Daddy’s Little Angel” gives some backstory into her wicked ways, but “Poor Unfortunate souls” was the number that left not only Ariel, but the audience speechless. 

The show was not only metaphorically dazzling, but the costumes were covered in jewels, sequins and sparkles. Rafael managed to outshine even the Broadway production with his costume design. Ariel and his sisters wore a rainbow of bright, shiny tails which contrasted nicely with the sophisticated color palette of the outside world. From Sebastian’s sparkly red eyebrows to the to Flotsam and Jetsam’s healys, no detail was overlooked. 

While no one can say for sure if they celebrate the holidays under the sea, Ariel captured the spirit of the holiday with her determination to see the good in others 

“There’s good in people, Daddy,” she tells her father. “I know, I’ve seen it.”

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is running at Syracuse Stage until January 8, 2023.