Review: TownSquare Players' 'Little Mermaid' a must-see for all ages at Woodstock Opera House

There are no secrets here. The Disney musical rendition based upon the original Hans Christian Andersen is an oft-told tale abounding in good, evil, love and sacrifice. What makes it compelling remains how any particular production company brings it to life. TownSquare Players’ version of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” now running at the Woodstock Opera House and directed by Billy Seger, is a must-see production.

Many will say, “Fine, but ‘The Little Mermaid’ is for kids, especially girls.” I can’t argue against that opinion, but this production is an enjoyable evening regardless of age. A majority of the audience left with smiling faces brought on by the infectiously positive performances of the cast.

Deanna Golema’s turn as Ariel is excellent due to her incredible singing ability. As great as she was, there were two actors who ran with their characters and positively chewed up scenery as if they were starving. First, there was James Gritschke as Sebastian. His performance as the creative crustacean delighted all the kids, as well as the kid in me, especially during Act One’s “Under the Sea” number and Act Two’s “Les Poissons” sequence.

The second outstanding character work revolves around the primal “good versus evil” story. In order for someone to be truly loved, then someone else needs to be loathed. Fortunately, this production has Ursula, played with delicious destructive decadence by Christy Sturm. She was so compellingly evil there wasn’t a single person in the packed opening night who didn’t root for her demise.

Other characters who stood out amongst a packed stage of talent include Prince Eric (Ethan Sherman), King Triton (Travis Gruel), Chef Louie (Eric Torres), Scuttle (Ben Carver) and Flounder (Matthew Savas). Flounder and Scuttle got a lot of well-deserved laughs. Plaudits go to the cast for their continual work to keep the illusion of being underwater. Nearly all the cast kept “swimming” in and out of scenes even if they were not a central part of a particular scene. This work helps propel the audience forward into the story, as well as keep them engaged in what’s going on.

As for the set, what struck me was not how well the crew handled creating the complicated pieces, such as the ship and Ursula’s Lair, but the effectiveness of the basic set. The waves motif worked to take the audience “under the sea” and was placed well so the audience could easily follow the story on land when necessary. Good work by the group of set designers, set dressers and builders. My only beef was the blocking tape, as seen from the balcony, is glaringly prominent.

The orchestra, directed by Rosemarie Aiello, built up the start of Act One with a solid overture intro and kept the energy going throughout the entire performance for the sea of musical numbers. The numbers, especially “Under the Sea,” were well-choreographed by Seger. There was a lot going on, and a couple of the hairpieces couldn’t handle the quick movements, but frankly I would’ve been surprised if there weren’t a few “wig malfunctions.”

A small word of warning, though: it’s a long show for little kids as the evening performances start at 8 p.m. and end around 10:30 p.m. If you’re headed to one of the evening shows, try to get them (and you) to take an afternoon nap. However, this “The Little Mermaid” was well worth it. Hurry and snatch up tickets, this is a great rendition of a popular musical.

• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose Certificate of Completion sheet of paper from Second City’s Improv program. Published works include “Crystal Lake: incorporation of a city 1914-2014.”


WHEN: Through March 18

WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St., Woodstock

COST & INFO: Musical presented by TownSquare Players. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. Schedule: 8 p.m. March 9-10, 16-17; 2 p.m. March 10-11, 17-18. Tickets: $25 A Seating, $20 B Seating, $15 C Seating. Tickets and information: 815-338-5300 or

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