Derrick Baskin, Sierra Boggess, Sherie Rene Scott,
and Tyler Maynard in The Little Mermaid
(© Joan Marcus)
Derrick Baskin, Sierra Boggess, Sherie Rene Scott,
and Tyler Maynard in The Little Mermaid
(© Joan Marcus)
Rummaging through everything in their 70-years-plus catalog to see what can be turned into a money-making musical, the Disney team has finally arrived at The Little Mermaid. Since the show was studiously designed for little girls, anything said by a male commentator who has long since reached his majority may not be worth a day-old scallop to them or their parents; but here's this grownup's opinion anyway. The only things keeping this adaptation of the original 1988 animated film from utter mediocrity are three enthralling new numbers by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater: a cute ditty called "She's in Love," a traditional Disney nonsense song dubbed "Positoovity," and "If Only," a ballad for four main characters that could someday come to be known as the Verdi-like quartet from The Little Mermaid.

Each of these songs was added to help transform an 83-minute film into a less than witty two-hour-and-twenty minute, two-act stage extravaganza. Of course, the six original songs by Menken and the late Howard Ashman are intact; but they don't have the same impact they had on screen. This is true of both the Oscar-winning "Under the Sea" and especially the swingy "Kiss the Girl," which, like much of the show, has been vulgarized and Las Vegasized by director Francesca Zambello, set designer George Tsypin, costumer Tatiana Noginova, and choreographer Stephen Mear. And speaking of the set, wassup with those humungous corkscrews Tyspin keeps rolling in and revolving?

As those who love the Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale might expect, the story largely remains intact, although librettist Doug Wright has tinkered with a more Cinderella-at-the-ball ending than John Musker penned for the screen. Young mermaid Ariel (Sierra Boggess) feels out of place in her realm, and longs to be up where they ambulate on legs, especially after she develops a crush on one of the footed citizens, Prince Eric (Sean Palmer), whom she saves from a watery death.

Aided by fellow creatures like seagull Scuttles (Eddie Korbich), crab Sebastian (the lively Tituss Burgess) and little fish Flounder (Brian D'Addario at this performance) -- but not encouraged by dad King Triton (Norm Lewis) -- Ariel makes an ill-advised bargain with her aunt, the banished sea witch Ursula (Sherie Rene Scott). The deal is that Ariel willfully trades the gorgeous singing voice that enchanted Eric for three days of land legs, during which she must get the prince to kiss her -- or face dire consequences. Her seeming undoing now takes place at a singing contest where young women of the dominion vie for Eric's had, but putative winner Ariel can't participate because her voice is locked in Ursula's black-magic shell.

The real people rounded up for this live-action effort work hard as they can, many of them wearing Heelys-inspired footwear in order to skim over the floor as if fin-propelled. And there are a couple of true scene-stealers present. D'Addario, who shares his role with three other young lads, jocularly belts "She's in Love" with the Mersisters chorus. Korbich, who was so much fun in The Drowsy Chaperone, is ill-used in the first act but comes into his own at the start of act two, when he takes the "Possitoovity" song-and-dance lead.

Many patrons will love what Scott, once of Disney's Aida, does as scheming Ursula with her arachnid-suggestive tentacles. Tyler Maynard and Derrick Baskin slither nicely as her evil electric eels, Flotsam and Jetsam. The marvelous Lewis, always clinging to Triton's schlocky silver triton, looks virile in his bare-chested costume but is underused underwater. As the romantic leads, Boggess and Palmer are charismatic only in so far as their characters are styled to be charismatic. Nothing is wrong with their chirping and terping, but they seem very much in keeping with the Disney strategy of eventually slipping replacements into key slots without anyone really noticing.

In the end, whatever positoovity The Little Mermaid exhibits has been trumped by excessive negatensity. Still, your average seven-year-old may beg to differ.