The theatre social season is upon us. No sooner than we began reflecting on ending a banner year of performances in Upstate theatres, it’s time for new seasons and the theatres are rolling out their biggest, their best, their most extravagant and expensive, their big guns (or in last night’s case at Chapman Cultural Center, their big trident).
All within a two-week period in September, patrons can see an alien transvestite, a dim-witted ogre, a Webber biblical epic, a teen wonder girl group, the Supremes, , the Carter Family, and a mute mermaid and malevolent octopus.
From Clint Walker’s delectable, innovative sea-worthy prosceniums and fabric seaweed and coral, to Peter Lamson’s brilliant lighting display of life “Under the Sea,” to the most magnificent and imaginative costumes, headpieces, wigs and makeup, the “The Little Mermaid” directed by Spartanburg Little Theatre Executive Artistic Director Jay Coffman is the full (crab) enchilada.
And the cast, the incredible cast. In her few but impressive appearances, SLT extraordinaire Sarah Hurley chews up the coral and seahorse scenery as the evil exiled sea hag. While a vampy lilt in her voice and bolstered by a stunning bejeweled sea gown and a carriage of eights legs so large that she can’t even enter most doors with the costume on, Hurley, the accomplished dramatic actor who played the antagonizing Nurse Ratchet in last year’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” shines vocally here in this featured role with such pleasing, commanding renditions and reprises of her ode to jealousy “Daddy’s Little Angel” and of course, the haunting act one climax when the evil octopus takes away our Mermaid heroine’s precious voice in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Brava, Miss Hurley!
And the Mermaid in question, Ariel (played delicately and with the pureness of a teenage nun by Hannah Searcy In her first SLT leading role, gives up her pampered life on the ocean floor as youngest daughter of King Triton (an impeccable godly performance by LeRoy Kennedy in layers of jeweled fabrics, beards and make-up) for a chance to marry the handsome land dweller Prince Eric, another dashing performance by the “Beast” two seasons ago, Garrett Gibson.
Searcy holds a treasure trove of skills: presence, dancing chops, and astute vocal ability, which she demonstrates in the crowd pleasing ballad “Part of Your World.”
Based on the 1989 Disney animated movie and the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, this musical with a never ending slate of brilliant songs by Alan Mencken, Howard Ashman and Glen Slater, is brimming with one majestic featured role after another and Spartanburg has plenty of talent to fill them .
Starting with my favorite character and actor K.Ray Jones. Making his SLT debut in “Memphis” as a last minute replacement a few years ago, Jones has made his mark in theatres all over the Upstate. Here he deliciously delights as the music teaching crab Sebastian. With a wiggle in his step and a winsome Jamaican accent, Jones pinches his way into our hearts with his on-beat humor and one-liners and succulent reggae numbers like “Under the Sea” and the magnificent “Kiss the Girl” as he is flanked by human lily pads and towering puppets of stingrays and man-o-wars.
Then there’s the agile Parker Bowen as Flounder, the incredible Ryan Barry as Scuttle the Seagull, the mesmerizing Kenneth Tice as Chef Louis in one of the best sequences, the culinary-induced “Les Poissons,” and an unrecognizable Scott Wolfe as the Prince’s uptight attendant and confidant, Grimsby.
The Mersisters (Jade Alford, Tiffany Wright, Miranda Richardson, Anna Grace Bradford, Jessie Cantrell and Ella Brown) are rambunctious and superb, with the finest harmonies of the evening, and continuing SLT’s longstanding tradition of tough lady ensembles (the Silly Girls from Beauty and the Beast, the Hot Box Girls from Guys and Dolls, the Delta Nus from Legally Blonde.)
And this is one of the hardest working ensembles in show biz, spending half their time changing costumes for the next number.
The boys’ dance sequences are not as polished as the ladies but they get kudos for their efforts and breadth of tackling the full-throttle choreography by Haley Hayes Bolton, who choreographed “9 to 5” several seasons ago for SLT.
Cody Owens, Charlie Hyatt, Kareem Johnson and Carson Wolfe are the spirited and dexterous male actors in multi-parts with Kit Lindsey and Blake Kirsch as the evil electric eels and more.
The music is directed by Ben Chumley and seduces a huge sound from his six-piece band that give the impression of a full band twice that size in the pit
The Little Mermaid is sumptuous eye candy and a feast of aural pleasures at its zenith. This is, frankly, Coffman’s best work since “Mary Poppins” in 2015.
It is a gorgeous production and has an ethereal quality and bouncy energy that is sure to reel in the patrons and sell-out.
And it’s a family show.
The Little Mermaid continues September 8, 14, 15, 21, & 22 at 8 pm, and September 9, 15, 16, 22, & 23 at 3 pm. Tickets are available at www.chapmanculturalcenter.org