At 26, Area Stage Company of Miami director Giancarlo Rodaz became the youngest director to win a Carbonell Award for creating an immersive theatrical experience in his production of the musical Beauty and the Beast in 2022.

This month, Rodaz has shown that his Carbonell Award was hardly a once in a lifetime winner. Rodaz has created another immersive theatrical experience again, now as the artistic director of Area Stage, with his production of  the musical “The Little Mermaid”, running now through Sunday, August 27 at the intimate Carnival Studio Theater of Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.

With the endorsement of Disney’s head of marketing (Disney owns the rights to the Broadway version of The Little Mermaid), Rodaz and his many collaborators recreated the Carnival Studio theater with the audiences feeling that they are part of the underwater and on top of the water sea experience from the moment they are seated on the stage in a seaport tavern..

Actor Arron Jugas sings “Kiss The Girl” from the Crow’s Net above actors Josslyn Shaw (Ariel) and Henry Thrasher (Prince Eric) in the boat in “The Little Mermaid”, running now through Sunday, August 27 at Arsht Center in Miami. Photo is by Giancarlo Rodaz.

Theater designer Frank Olivia has created a central grotto ship, a crow’s nest, a watch tower, and many staircases to complement the energetic cast, who all not only have to sing, portray their characters, but also to interact with the audience.

While being seated in the sea tavern by the 19 actors in character, the story develops with The Little Mermaid, Ariel (played by Josslyn Shaw) exploring the human world above the sea, much to the displeasure of her father, King Triton (Frank Montoro), whose wife was killed by a sailor in the human world.

Ariel meets the enchanting Prince Eric (Henry Thrasher) when she saves Eric’s life when he falls overboard from his ship. Ariel’s attraction to the prince leads to her love for Eric, but she must become a human to be in his world.

Ariel’s aunt, the sea witch Ursula (Jonathan Chisolm) makes a bargain with Ariel to trade her fins for human legs in exchange for Ariel losing her voice and becoming mute.

Prince Eric becomes enchanted with the deaf mute Ariel and plans to forsake other women suitors to marry Ariel. The story reaches a climax and an eventual dramatic conclusion once Eric learns about Ariel’s origins.

The actors are veterans of Area Stage’s conservatory program and were enchanting. An audience member would never know when and where an actor would break into song (including scenes on top of a table or by a person’s seat) or involve the audience in many of the production numbers in The Little Mermaid.

Actor Aaron Hagos as “Sebastian” interacts with the audience in “The Little Mermaid”, running now though Sunday, August 27 at Arsht Center in Miami. Photo by Giancarlo Rodaz.

For example, the most well-known song in the musical “Under the Sea” had members of the audience joining the cast in a jubilant dance around the sea tavern to close act one, a major highlight of the show.

Another highlight had Ariel, Eric, King Triton and Ariel’s guide to the human world, Sebastian (a sea crab played by Aaron Hagos) sing in four part harmony “If Only” in four different areas of the sea tavern.

Three of the 19 actors have to be commended for drawing the audience in due to their performances.  Shaw especially shines in her soprano singing of “Part of Your World”. Along with her red hair and enthusiasm, Shaw conveys both the playfulness and assertiveness needed to combat both King Triton and Aunt Ursula.

Thrasher was impressive in his singing, especially in the song “Her Voice”, emphasizing his wish to be with Ariel for the rest of his life.

Chisolm, a Trans Femme Nonbinary person playing the female villain, was compelling, sporting a feminine look with a purple dress, white hair and smooth dancing. Their voice was commanding, especially in the production number “I Want The Good Times Back”.

Jonathan Chisolm as “Ursula” in The Little Mermaid, running now through Sunday, August 27 at Arsht Center in Miami. Photo is by Ariany Cespedes.

It is the impressive vision of Giancarlo Rodaz that stands out for the audience when the show ends.. His trademark immersive theatrical experience makes “The Little Mermaid” seem more like an attraction that can only be seen at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios in Orlando.

Comparing Rodaz’s vision in theater to that of Steven Spielberg in film is really not a stretch. Audiences can look forward to Rodaz’s unique approach into immersive theater where he will direct The Addams Family from February 7-25 at the Carnival Studio Theater of the Arsht Center.

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