Quality family fare for the kids is in such short supply in any medium that it's a pleasure to be able to welcome the latest screen-to-stage Disney extravaganza on the Great White Way. "The Little Mermaid" is the latest, and one of the best of that company's amazingly successful screen-to-stage adaptations.
Despite some carping from the daily press, we found this a highly enjoyable two and a half hours. And the scores of hyperactive kids -- little girls with "princess" fixations were predominant, of course -- were transfixed once the lights went down.
Given the underwater setting of this very loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's bittersweet fairy tale (Disney has supplied a satisfyingly upbeat ending), the big surprise is how stage-worthy it turns out to be, thanks to Doug Wright's deft script.
Following "Xanadu," this is the second major musical of the season where the cast moves about largely on roller skates. The effect -- in opera director Francesca Zambello's colorful production -- often suggests aquatic navigation.
Though wisely there's been no attempt at slavishly copying their animated forebears, the cast is strong across the board: an adorable Sierra Boggess as Ariel, who delivers the big ballad "Part of Your World"; Sherie Rene Scott hilariously over-the-top as the villainous Ursula, the estranged sister of Ariel's father, King Triton; Norm Lewis as that imposing monarch; Sean Palmer as Ariel's human prince Eric; Jonathan Freeman as Grimsby, his guardian; Eddie Korbich as Scuttle the seagull; and Tituss Burgess as her Jamaican-accented crab guardian, Sebastian.
The calypso rhythms of the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman hits "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" are given fresh staging, among which the new songs with lyrics by Glenn Slater fit seamlessly.
Though things look awfully dodgy for heroine Ariel, who foolishly barters with Ursula to exchange her beautiful voice for human legs, all is set right by the end, with those basic life lessons germane to the best Disney products provided along the way. (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.; (212) 307-4747; www.DisneyOnBroadway.com)
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