BY SANDY STAGGS
Carolina Curtain Call finally made it to the new theatre at the Younts Center for Performing Arts this weekend for “The Little Mermaid.” I can report with earnestness that great things are happening at this venue again.
The 418-seat theatre was nearly full. Of course, Disney shows bring the crowds and this was a matinee so the kids were out in full force … and frankly, adoring Ariel (Jamie Holland) and her mates under the sea.
With three shows already in its repertoire (“Smokey Joe’s Café,” “Nunsense,” and the music show “Groovin’”), the new Younts Center Theatre has been bringing in top talent to Fountain Inn including director and choreographer Kimberlee Ferreira and music director Tim St. Clair II. And it’s paying off.
But most refreshing about visiting the Younts Center are the familiar faces. Those from the FIRE Theatre years like the amazing Hugh Murphy (as the fastidious French Chef Louie in search of crustacean for his fish broth); Rachel Hawks (who looks like a princess as Ariel’s mersister); and Nancy Burkard (the malevolent electric eel Jetsam); and Joseph Bogs (Grimsby the Prince’s attendant).
Occasionally the ensemble numbers are not entirely crisp, but the solo work and featured spots are alive and thriving with music direction by Steve Griner.
Miss Holland lends a splendid adolescent charm as Ariel, even when she is defying her father, King Triton (Steve Eager) and swimming to the water’s surface to gaze upon her handsome Prince Eric (Joel Dupont in an equally charming performance and a crooner’s voice and vibrato ready-made for musical theatre)
And Holland handily nails those famous crowd-pleasing ballads written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman: “Part of Your World” and “If Only.”
But as any Disney fam knows, the featured roles get most of the riotous numbers. Gem Taylor sells her Scuttle the seagull with a Jersey accent and malapropisms with aplomb and plenty of “Positoovity” while Murphy discovers the joy of comedic cooking in “Les Poissons”; and little Riley Fincher-Foster, the youngest cast member, is adorable and more than adept as Flounder leading the joyous ensemble piece “She’s in Love.”
And in the crucial roles of Sebastian the dancing crab and Ursula the Sea Witch are Neel Patrick Edwards and Amy Heider-Brown. Though I couldn’t not get a handle on his fleeting Jamaican accent sometimes, Edwards, who has played the ship’s pilot, Grimsby and the Chef in other productions of “The Little Mermaid” including recently at the Flat Rock Playhouse, is dynamite in this part, sparkling with energy and presence and an impeccable set of pipes to match. You read it here first, Upstate: this college freshman is going places.
And Heider-Brown is a natural for the Octopus that wants Ariel’s magical voice for her own, mastering a brawny burlesque register that commands attention in her chiding manipulation in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
“The Little Mermaid” under the direction of Artistic Director Melody B. Yasi is modest and efficient in scenery and set pieces backdrop though there is an incredible coral reef on stage left. But she takes this love story to new heights, literally, with some soaring aerial flying not only Ariel as she beautifully swims up to the surface (the ceiling), but also two other characters.
Ferreira returns to choreograph this movement-heavy piece. Brooke Dersch is lighting designer, St. Clair II is sound designer and Matt Christian Jones is Technical Director.
And a special shout out to the imaginative, pleasant and colorful costumes by Danae Harris.
“The Little Mermaid” continues through Oct. 28 at the Younts Center for Performing Arts, 315 N Main St. in Fountain Inn. For tickets, call (864) 409-1050 or visit https://www.yountscenter.org/.