Review: The Little Mermaid a splash hit for Persephone Theatre

(left to right) Maya Baker, Joema Frith and Synthia Yusuf dance during the media call for Persephone Theatre’s production of 'The Little Mermaid' in Saskatoon, SK, April 10, 2024. Photo Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards Photo Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

In the leadup to opening night, Persephone Theatre’s artistic director Heather Cant promised The Little Mermaid would be a theatre magic-laden spectacular.

And by Poseidon, the show delivered.

Marred by a few technical difficulties that will hopefully be ironed out in the early part of the run, Persephone Theatre’s season-ending production was full to bursting with brilliant singing, hilarious comedy and a cornucopia of eye candy in nearly every scene in the preview Thursday night.

The plot is pretty well-known at this point — Ariel (Synthia Yusuf) feels trapped in her life under the sea, and makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula (Kristel Harder) to be able to go on land to hopefully win the love of the dashing sailor Prince Eric (Caulin Moore).

But let’s not worry about the plot — it hits all those same fun notes that the animated movie does, and there’s not much to add there. Instead, let’s talk about how this production manages to rival, and in some ways surpass, the animated classic.

This is as close to a magnum opus as set and light and costume design may get in Persephone Theatre. Particularly in those scenes under the sea or on the sea (yes, there’s more than one boat in this show), the visuals on display are equal parts clever and mesmerizing. Set pieces slot together and move around the stage so a handful of pieces make multiple distinct locales, flats are flown in and out to create stunning undersea effects and ominous ocean caves and the lighting design and effects added an air of magic to the production. It’s easily one of the best-designed shows Persephone Theatre has ever staged, and those members of the production team deserved their own bows.

Cant, who is also the director of this production, found so many little nuances to layer into a fun show. The movement of the mermaids “underwater” has a clear fluidity to set them apart from their land-dwelling counterparts,

And we haven’t even mentioned the cast, who took on iconic characters with admirable vigor. Yusuf is a dream as Ariel — every movement, every action, every line spoken and sung was so brilliant you almost start to believe she’s actually a mermaid.

The supporting characters — particularly Flounder (Maya Baker), Sebastian (Joema Frith) and Scuttle (Leon Willey) — were so immaculate and full of energy. Frith in particular was sensational, stealing every scene he sidestepped into and leading the best song in the best scene in the entire show with brilliant energy (the movie classic “Under The Sea”).

The ensemble was great — the six performers who played Ariel’s older sisters (and a number of other parts) had particularly tight and powerful harmonies that helped fill the space of a pared-down band.

And one would be remiss if we didn’t give kudos to Saskatoon’s own Kristel Harder in her turn as Ursula the sea witch herself. Supported by the aforementioned great light and set design — and a tremendous tentacled costume — Harder was larger-than-life as the conniving and manipulative villain.

The show was not flawless. There were some unfortunate microphone issues, some of which persisted throughout the whole show, that can definitely be corrected as the show gets further into the run. A few of the interior set pieces looked like they needed a touch of paint or maybe a hanging portrait to cover them up.

The musical is brilliant in moments. “Under the Sea,” the storm that strikes early in the show, when Ursula interrupts Prince Eric’s party — these scenes rival anything that has ever graced the Persephone Theatre stage.

It’s hard to keep that level of energy throughout, however, and there are definite dips in the level of “spectacular” where it feels like the cast needed a moment to re-find its footing.

But technical snafus aside, this show does not disappoint. Persephone Theatre has taken on a huge Broadway musical — a Disney classic — and sprinkled in some of its own magic to make a big splash to close out their season.

The Little Mermaid runs at Persephone Theatre until May 5. Tickets can be purchased online at persephonetheatre.org.

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