Bringing an iconic Disney show to the stage in Chelmsford is no small feat and Springers AOS have risen to the challenge. This show is a mixture of musical and pantomime making it so hard to deliver but this was not an issue for Springers AOS.
The set designed and built by the society was fantastic with two large circular cut out tabs, a raised rostra and a projection cloth. The projections were a great addition to the set giving atmosphere and an extra 3D quality to the staging. I believe there were some additional underwater sound effects that were used in some of the scenes but to be honest it just sounded like there was an issue with the sound system and was a distraction from the action. Personally, I would have cut them all and let the actors create the atmosphere with their performances alone.
To take on the title role of Ariel, is a challenge for any young actress but Lula Hemmings was the perfect choice. She looked beautiful and had the voice of an angel. She encapsulated the character of Ariel perfectly, my only comment was while I am sure all the Mermaids had been asked to use their arms and hands to replicate them being under water, as a principal she had far too many distracting hand movements which was a shame as otherwise this was such a wonderful performance. Sometimes less is more!
Opposite her as Prince Eric was Matt Scott. Matt has the looks and voice of a prince and was the perfect choice for this role. Ariel’s father Triton was played by Mat Smith. Mat is another strong vocal and he sang beautifully tonight but there was far too much wandering around the stage with little purpose in his dialogue. The most powerful and challenging position on stage is to stand still and command the stage, this would have benefitted his performance as the King of the Sea.
Jack Funnell as Scuttle had all the right mannerism of a seagull and delivered a great performance in this quirky role. In addition, Dan Carlton as Grimsby was another lovely cameo role and Dan delivered it very well.
Along with Ariel there were three other standout performances and the youngest of these was Maja Skoric as Flounder. She held her own amongst the adult performers and I loved her interpretation of the character. I think she is a star of the future and I look forward to seeing what parts she goes on to play next. Simon Brett as Sebastian was another stand out tonight. He has great stage presence, never over plays and mixed comedy with great vocals. How lucky are the society to have such strong and competent performers.
The final stand out for me was Lexy Phillips as Ursula. Lexy is a chameleon who never fails to deliver, the depth and range of her vocals were those of someone far superior in age, but she finds all the nuances of a character and punches it out. She was so ably supported by Sophia Harrod as Flotsam and Emily Peplow as Jetsom. Both these ladies were strong and confident in their roles and stood out for their attack and characterisation. Well done to all of you.
I understand Al Pitcher as Chef Louis was a last-minute addition. Al squeezed all the comedy out of this role and I was very impressed by his singing too. I really look forward to seeing what he does next.
The mersisters again were very strong vocally, but I am not sure if the ‘heelies’ were written into the script or a creative addition but honestly only Sophie Holmes and Karla Marie (along with Maja Skoric) looked confident on them and carried them off as part of their characters, the rest all looked somewhat unsure. As a result it didn’t really add much to the show for me.
The chorus as a whole sang well but I felt in comparison to the excellent principals, they all looked like they were under rehearsed with some chorus members being pulled around or looking for guidance as what to do in many scenes. On a positive note, this was opening night so with a few more runs under their belt this may well improve.
With such a big show the additional creative elements are vital. The lighting added great moods and was atmospheric, the sound was strong with lots of reverb on the microphones, but it added to the overall effect. The stage crew worked hard with numerous complicated scene changes. I am not a fan of scene changes in blackout without musical underscoring but other than that they did an outstanding job.
The costumes were bright and colourful, the underwater costumes offered iridescence, shimming fabrics and coral reef colours, I understand these were hired from Molly Limpets but some extras were added to them by the society. The only downside was the ‘on-land’ costumes, as they all needed petticoats underneath them to finish them off to the standard I have come to expect from Springers AOS.
The Orchestra under the skilful baton of Susannah Edom was perfectly matched to the cast and I’m sure the excellent vocals were helped by her guidance too.
All in all, Springers AOS brought Disney magic to the stage tonight. Yes, the action was slow in places but the upside was a strong principal line up with a great orchestra playing the unmistakable melodies of Alan Menken.