Review: ‘The Little Mermaid JR’ at BRAVO Productions

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Theater is a vital part of our culture. Imagination is discovered. History revealed. New ideas expressed. And the limitless lessons to be garnered from our fundamentally flawed human selves are explored. What better way to ensure that theater continues to grow and thrive than by teaching our children the benefits of the art, as a performer and an audience member?

Ellie Harper. Photo courtesy of Bravo Productions.

The musical theater program, BRAVO Productions, does just that by instructing school age children in the many aspects of musical theater. They learn about blocking, staging, choreography, and music. At the end of their session, the students put on a full production to highlight how much they’ve learned and grown from the program. I had the pleasure of seeing the older students’ production of Godspell last week. This weekend it was the younger kids’ turn to show their stuff with the Disney favorite, The Little Mermaid Jr.

BRAVO’s Executive Producer, Laurie Levy Issembert, co-directed the musical with Tammy Wyatt Roberts, who also served as the Choreographer. Dan Dinstock was the show’s Musical Director, who I must say did a phenomenal job teaching the cast the importance of enunciation. Every lyric was clear and audible, which is a necessary performance tool that even some adults struggle with mastering. (To see a funny take on the subject, with one the best scenes and resulting musical numbers, look up “Moses Supposes” from Singin in the Rain.)

Ariel is the young mermaid who longs to live on land.  In exchange for her voice, Ariel bargains with the sea witch, Ursula, to become human and have the chance to win the love of Prince Eric, who she recently saved from a terrible storm. With her friends, Scuttle, Sebastien, and Flounder, Ariel must fulfill her bargain with Ursula, but things do not always go as planned.

The set was simple with a mostly open stage, there was a large stone-like chair, to represent Triton’s throne, and a small dock to represent the humans’ domain. Most of the scene changes were clarified with the movement of the actors. The bright and varied costumes added great splashes of color and all of the actors playing sea creatures wore roller shoes so they could glide across the stage, to resemble swimming, which was an extremely fun and creative idea.

The Cast. Photo courtesy of Bravo Productions.

Some of the roles were split, and I saw the Saturday evening show with what was dubbed “The Mermaid Cast”: Will Sexter (Prince Eric); Hannah Goldberg (Grimsby); Ava Klugerman (Pilot); Emerson Labovich (Scuttle); Blake Strauch (King Triton); Lainey Berman (Sebastion); Lexie Beane (Carlotta); Ava Walpert (Chef Louis/Aquata); Ellie Harper (Ariel); Kiley Flaherty (Flounder); Alexa Binstock (Ursula); Molly Sylvester (Flotsam/Allana); Brynn Duffy (Jetsam/Atina); Mackenzie Bragin (Adella); Eliana Strauch (Andrina); Olivia Sosin (Arista); Ayla Gerstenblith (Harp/Seagull); Johnny Bricker (Bass/Seagull); Ellie Goldberg (Sax/Seagull); Jaden Walcoff (Flute/Seagull); Ben Manevich (Newt); Olivia Fehrmann (Jellyfish); Gabrielle Scherr (Jellyfish); Lucy Keller (Seahorse/Carp); Taylor Blackstone (Chub); and Jordyn White (Plaice).

The young actors did a great job portraying the roles. Prince Eric (Sexter) was perfectly charming and innocent, and his dutiful man Grimsby (Goldberg) was always by his side.  Triton (Strauch) was stubborn and authoritative but, at his heart, a loving father.

The musical included many of the well-known songs from the original Disney cartoon. Ellie Harper, as Ariel, sang the lovely “Part of Your World” with strength and clarity.

Lainey Berman’s Sebastian had the two big fun ensemble numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl”.  Both were show stoppers with the wonderful display of costumes and the choreographer that took over the whole stage.

Alexa Binstock. Photo courtesy of Bravo Productions.

There were also some numbers not from the movie.  The hilarious “Human Stuff” led by Scuttle (Emerson Labovich).  Labovich had great energy and timing while teaching Ariel about important human things, like dinglehoppers and snarfblatts.

There was also the incredibly fun “She’s in Love”, featuring Ariel’s sisters Aquata (Walpert), Adella (Bragin), Andrina (Strauch), Arista (Sosin), and Allana (Sylvester) and Flounder (Flaherty).  The song is very upbeat and the harmonies were beautiful.

Now, The Little Mermaid is nothing without her villain, and Alexa Binstock’s ’s performance as Ursula was by far the highlight of the show. The way she playfully twisted her hair while she plotted and schemed. Her cackles, the eye rolls, the way she slowly and deliberately maneuvered the stage like a predator eying her prey (kudos to Co-Directors Issembert and Roberts, of course). Binstock was delightful and her rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was the icing on the cake.

This fantastic group of budding artists was having a wonderful time on the stage, performing their hearts out, and it was clear that BRAVO Productions does a great job instilling the love, dedication, and respect for musical theater in their students. A job well done to all the cast and creative team!

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

The Little Mermaid JR played June 17-18, 2017, at Randolph Road Theatre – 4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets to upcoming BRAVO Productions for Young Artists shows, call (202) 360-7578, or purchase them online.