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Good moments win out

The Little Mermaid at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli) with seagulls and Scuttle (Jake Atwood). Photo credit: Kat Dollarhide

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Tacoma Musical Playhouse's staging of Disney's The Little Mermaid is sweet and sentimental, colorful, and filled with lively music and dancing. Typical of Jon Douglas Rake directed musicals, there is a surfeit of lavish production numbers featuring the entire cast, and some big-time tap dancing, most notably featuring the lightning-fast feet of Jake Atwood as Scuttle, the high-energy seagull.

There are magnificent costumes by Jocelyne Fowler and her assistant, Grace Stone. Among these costumes are long yellow skirts worn by the mermaids and designed to hide their feet - as only humans and birds have feet, until Ariel (Cherisse Martinelli) is magically transformed and drops her skirt while flying high above the stage to reveal naked human feet and human legs in green tights.

The costumers outfit Scuttle all in white feathers with bright stockings and clunky shoes, and Sebastian the crab (Isaiah Parker) all in scarlet with big red pinchers for hands. Most inventive of all the costumes are those of Ursula the sea witch (Nancy Herbert Bach) and her evil minions Flotsam and Jetsam (Derek Mesford and Josh Anderman, respectively). Ursula is dressed as a squid with many massive arms, and Flotsam and Jetsam are eels with long tails with little white lights along the length of them; they glide about on roller-fitted tennis shoes.

The action takes place in many movable scenes, most underwater, some of which are delightful and beautiful, and some of which are cheesy, looking like set pieces one might have seen in cheap 1920s music hall productions. I can't tell if the cheesy look was purposeful, intended to be funny, or a result of budget limitations, and the fact that leading up to the production, many major TMP personnel were in Minnesota for the national AACTFest where TMP took home many top awards.

A final word on the sets: there are a lot of changes, and they are all done by hand - physically pushed pieces on and off stage and pulling on ropes. There is also some terrific and inventive lighting by TMP's lighting expert, John Chenault, some of which is comical and some of which is lovely, enhancing the magical quality of the show.

Ariel is the youngest of King Triton's (Johnny Neidlinger) beautiful mermaid daughters. As the youngest and the smallest, she is scorned by her big sisters. She longs to explore the world above her watery domain - especially after she sees the drowning Prince Eric (Colin Briskey) and carries him to shore. She falls in love with him. Ariel strikes a deal with the devil, Ursula, who turns her into a human for three days only, but exacts by way of payment the loss of her voice and tells her the only way she can remain human is to get Eric to kiss her - no easy task considering that she can't speak to him.

Have no fear. Of course they kiss. What kind of fairy tale would it be if they did not?

The music by Alan Menken is great. Both Briskey and Martinelli are good singers, especially Briskey, whose voice is clear and smooth. His plaintiff singing on "Her Voice" tugs at the heart.

Musical highlights include the big ensemble performance on "Under the Sea" with solo by Parker and the delightful "Positoovity" highlighting the skills of Atwood and the ensemble.

And there is a rolling-in-the-aisles comedy sketch when Chef Louis (Erik Furuheim) prepares a mighty fish dinner for Ariel and Prince Eric and attempts to boil Ariel's dear friend Sebastian the crab - a scene that breaks into a chase scene worthy of the Three Stooges as Chef Louis and his helpers chase Sebastian back and forth under a table to the upbeat tune of "Les Poissons."

The acting and the staging is uneven, silly in some moments and terrific in others. I can't laud all of the cast, but Briskey, Parker, Atwood and Martinelli are expressive, loveable and athletic in their physicality.

Disney's The Little Mermaid, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, through July 30, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31, 253.565.6867, tmp.org

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