As Hurricane Joaquin gleefully threatens to screw up the Middle Atlantic this weekend — much like how Joaquin Phoenix screwed up all of Rome in Gladiator or how Scarlett Johansson’s voice screwed up Joaquin Phoenix’s delicate hipster heart in Her — you should totally make plans to mentally and physically escape this weekend’s rain, flooding, and general wetness by seeing The Little Mermaid at Sandler Center, which will be set underwater. The musical will also be set underwater.
Virginia Musical Theatre’s faithful, energetic recreation of Mermaid, which originally debuted on Broadway in 2008, avoids the plasticky excess of the show’s first iterations and hones in on what made the seminal 1989 movie great in the first place: witty musical numbers, themes of longing, and plenty of fishy underwater realness.
Scenic design by Gabriel Firestone and Douglas Puskas
Bayside High School senior Malia Pitrone (pictured, below right), who is ecstatic to be acting in her first professional gig, beat out more than 600 women across the country for her role of Ariel. And it’s no surprise: with her luminous Disney princess-size eyes and winsome, gawky charm, the young Pitrone exudes the charisma of a true stage star.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” she insists, bobbing her partially costumed head at me in her dressing room. “I just wanted to be a part of this production. I would’ve even been happy being in the ensemble. I never would’ve thought they’d pick me for Ariel!!”
Pitrone likes how Ariel — her favorite Disney princess — is a bit tougher in the musical than in the original movie. “She’s stronger,” says Pitrone. “She has more power.” Ms. Pitrone also understandably likes that she gets to (spoiler alert) marry Prince Eric at the end of the show. (“He’s the most handsome Disney prince, hands down!”)
Ursula, also, has been given an upgrade for this show. Heather Mayes, who has been directed by Pierre Brault to relish in her character’s status-obsessed sociopathy, seeks to intimidate as well as entertain.
“In many previous productions, [directors] have made Ursula into more of a buffoon,” says Brault. “But she is the villain of the whole show … She needs to be a force to be reckoned with.”
In addition to populating his version of Mermaid with gauzy, wavy fabrics that echo the currents of the ocean, Brault has mostly chosen to forego the use of Heelies in his show. In the original Broadway production, actors were choreographed to haphazardly skate around the stage and mimic swimming motions, but Brault has kept his actors’ fins firmly on the ground. Instead, Brault has only given Heelies to Flotsam and Jetsam, who employ their skates to replicate the slippery, unctuous motions of their cinematic Moray Eel counterparts.
Brault, for whom Mermaid marks his biggest production with VMT to date, hopes that audiences will be lured in by not just the show’s kinetic charm and technical wonder (there’s flying, a first for VMT!!), but also by its classic story.
“People know these characters,” he says. “They’ve seen the movies; they’ve been to the parks. We have a responsibility here to stay true to the story and to the mountain that Disney has built.”
If you’d like to find out if Brault kept his promise, then go ahead and wade over to the Sandler Center this evening (8 PM), Saturday (2 PM and 8 PM), or Sunday (2:30 PM.) If anything, you should at least see this show to get an idea of what Norfolk will look like in 100 years. When it’s underwater. Because global warming.
Have a happy hurricane!!
For more info or tickets, click here.