Last night a dear friend treated my daughters and me to an evening of musical theatre at the Olney Theatre Center. I had never been there, and now I'm just kicking myself. I had no idea how close they were, or what a cool place it is. I thought that regional theatre meant Baltimore City or DC. It's gratifying to know there's another choice. We'll definitely be back.
We saw The Little Mermaid, which is a stage adaptation of the original Disney animated film version. Disney has given so many of those classic films a second life as fully-fleshed stage musicals. This is the first one of those that I have seen. It is full of visual spectacle: undulating fabric waves, dancing schools of fish, puppetry, and more. I don't want to give away any of the more spectacular bits just in case you decide to see it. And it runs through December 28th, so you still can.
I could give you a full-scale theatrical review, although Steve Charing does such an excellent job at that. I would love to hear his take on this production. But instead I want to focus on something else.
First--how the experience of attending musical theatre has been changed so much by advances in technology. Amplification has changed how singers and actors perform. What may have started as a few hanging mics has evolved into thin, tiny body units for everyone, where even a deep breath for effect carries to the back of the house. The pit orchestra last night was in a pit which was covered by the stage (!) and amplified. Sight lines were maintained by closed-circuit TV.
There's something very different between hearing actual live music react to the actual acoustics of a room, as opposed to amplified singers and instruments. Perhaps younger audience members don't perceive this, just as they can watch CGI animation without having their eyeballs itch. But, to me, without the natural acoustic experience, and without seeing the orchestra, it became difficult to believe that any of what I was experiencing was "live music".
It seemed as though the actors could be lip-synching to a pre-recorded track. How could you tell? I get a similar feeling when watching tv and I am challenged to discern whether a scene is authentic or merely green-screen. For me, the lack of the "live" experience is disconcerting. But I don't think most people would give it a second thought these days.
Secondly, in case you want to see the show, and you have young children, there are a few things you should know. The running time of The Little Mermaid (film) is 92 minutes. This stage production is two hours and fifteen minutes, and you can't turn off the tv for breaks or fast forward over the scary bits. There is one intermission, and snacks and drinks are for sale. But two hours and fifteen minutes is long for very young children.
Oh, and scary bits. There are some. And they are loud, too. No one was carried out crying in fear last night, as far as I know, but a few scenes would have scared the socks off of me as a child. You are the best judge of what your child can handle. Just a word to the wise.
Overall--it's a great production. Funny, musical, visually appealing, beautifully presented. Fabulous dancing, creative costumes. The story line is changed a bit from the movie but it works well for a stage production. You don't have to be a kid to like it, although bringing a few along is probably a good idea. My big kid, now twenty-seven, watched the film version probably a gazillion times when she was little.
There was life before Frozen, you know. And it was wet. Very, very wet.