Roush Review: 'Little Mermaid Live' Neither Fish Nor Fowl
I hate to be a crab about it, but ABC's hybrid 30th-anniversary presentation of The Little Mermaid—part movie, part gussied-up concert—felt more sink than swim.
One or the other might have satisfied, but despite the best efforts of a game cast—with Queen Latifah a standout in full diva glory (and the night's best costume) as villainous sea witch Ursula—the effect of this collision of styles was more like a tepid theme-park or cruise-ship imitation. It was hard not to cringe when the special shimmied from the rightfully beloved 1989 animated classic into live-action mode, with a deafeningly cheering audience helping to obscure many of the late Howard Ashman's brilliant lyrics.
The Oscar-winning show-stopper "Under the Sea" might as well have been sung with soap bubbles for all that was intelligible in Shaggy's awkward rehash. His laughable Sebastian outfit, resembling a cross between Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy's red-leather phases, was tacky enough to conjure unhappy flashbacks of the Rob Lowe-Snow White Oscar duet, also from 30 years ago. (We with long memories sometimes wish we didn't.)
Auli'i Cravalho sang sweetly enough as Ariel, and her airborne swim-flying was a truly special effect, while Graham Phillips (Alicia's son on The Good Wife) as dashing Prince Eric did what he could with solos (new to many viewers) added from the short-lived Broadway production. But because the live actors were basically little more than musical stand-ins for the more vividly drawn animated characters, there wasn't much opportunity for anyone to develop actual chemistry or connection on stage. Except maybe John Stamos's hammy self-regard as Chef Louis in the chaotic "Les Poissons" number—which like nearly everything else in this production played better in the movie.
The good news for the poor unfortunate souls who sat through this misguided mishmash: the original Little Mermaid film can be seen uninterrupted in its entirety when the Disney+ streaming service launches in a week. Surely you've heard about it—especially if you sat through the oh-so-many ads scattered throughout Tuesday night's show.