To end out the 2023 year, Slow Burn Theatre Company is currently performing one outstanding production through New Year’s Eve: The Little Mermaid at the Amaturo Theater, Broward Center, wows and amazes its audience through its production value and uncanny ability to stir up some nostalgia. South Florida Theater Magazine was there on opening night to catch a glimpse of a life under the sea, and I was pleased to have a kids’ musical bring me as much joy as those kids around me in the audience.
With some dismay, the weather on opening night was abysmal; half of the seats were empty in the audience, but sure enough, filled up as the show went on. I was reminded how, sometimes, seeing a performance is a privilege, one that I should not take so lightly. I am again pleased to say that I was lucky to have had a chance to see this cast strut their stuff, have fun, and entrance families with some of the best singalong songs out there.
The stage, open and viewable to the audience as we filled into our seats, was designed to resemble a ship’s bow, but with enough Impressionistic qualities that it could be easily transformed into a throne room or Ariel’s secret room with the aid of props. There was also a projection playing behind the set that would transfer between images to indicate when the scene was happening above and below the water. Also, a ship’s fore main yard was lowered and raised to further that illusion of life drifting on the surface of the sea.
Ariel (Melanie Fernandez) poked her head above the “water” and perched on a rock to begin the night, gazing at the ship where Prince Eric (Nate Promkul) rode the waves, yearning for something he didn’t know. The stage change to King Triton (Wilkie Feguson), and subsequently under water, had the actors gliding around the stage using Heelys, those shoes that have wheels in the heels. The thing was a little funny at first, but surprisingly, I adapted to it quicker than I thought I would.
My favorite performances of the night were Heather Jane Rolff’s Ursula and Jesse Smith’s Sebastian. Rolff had such a stage presence that demanded you pay all your attention to her, even though she fumbled a line or two. Smith’s facial expressions were the best thing I’ve ever seen. Also, his lead in the song “Under The Sea” was the shining moment of the whole night. Seriously, the show is worth it just to see this song performed. Lastly, the costumes were incredible; Flounder’s (Kyle Kemph) yellow and blue outfit was jaw-dropping. The rest of the supporting cast filled the rest of the space with magic: I’m talking Grimsby (Michael Materdomini); Chef Louis (Ryan Crout); Scuttle (Rodney Holmes); and Flotsam (Nolan Montgomery) and Jetsam (Matthew J. Brightbill).
As much fun as I did have, and as kid-centered as The Little Mermaid is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer my critique of the performance, mainly concerning the continuity of the underwater illusion. Characters like Ariel, Flounder, Flotsam, and Jetsam had on the shoes that made you glide. Characters like Sebastian, King Triton, and Ursula did not. So, even though some scenes were underwater, there were characters who were gliding and some that were not. And those characters that did have on the shoes with wheels, only Ariel truly committed to this slight arm movement to indicate that she was “gliding” or “swimming” through water. The lack of consistency brought me out of the show’s world often and frequently.
That being said, I would still recommend Slow Burn’s The Little Mermaid to absolutely everyone, just like I’m doing right now. Tickets are still available for the final weekend. Grab them here (https://www.slowburntheatre.org/head-over-heels).
Christopher McDaniel is a MFA candidate in Creative Writing, Nonfiction, at Florida Atlantic University. He also works as a grant writer for the Norton Museum of Art. When Chris is not writing, he's either reading, walking around a museum, or thinking about a new piece to write later. He's from Virginia.