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by staff

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” is a load of hooey. Consider: The titular mermaid throws herself on a dagger in the end, because she can’t bear to go on after some dude she first encountered days earlier marries someone else. Also, she gives up her voice in exchange for legs so she can pursue the guy in the first place. So it goes in so-called “princess culture,” which pervades everything from Happy Meals to socks

The Little Mermaid
Through 6/26: Wed 1 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 6 PM (Sun 6/26, 2 PM only); North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300, musictheaterworks.com, $39-$106.

As for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the House of Mouse was smart enough to know the original would not have legs as a splashy, feel-good musical. Instead, we get an inevitable happily-ever-after from Alan Menken (music), Doug Wright (book), and Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater (lyrics). But in the charming Music Theater Works production co-directed by Stacey Flaster (who also shares choreography duties with Matthew Weidenbener) and Joshua Castille, that happy ending comes with a lightly conveyed but emphatic message children and adults would do well to consider. 

In the pastel, underwater wonderland (nice work by set designer Shane Cinal), the plot unfurls with more oceanic puns than a school of krill. But in addition to having a shamelessly stupid sense of humor, The Little Mermaid delves into the losses that incur when ignorance leads to vilification. The plot is simple: Princess Ariel (a luminous Joselle Reyes, who truly has the voice of a siren) falls for Prince Eric (Nathan Karnik, boasting a soaring tenor and raven locks as shiny and flowy as seagrass) after rescuing him from a shipwreck. Ariel’s father King Triton (Thomas E. Squires, whose galvanic bass sounds rooted in the depths of the Mariana Trench) forbids fraternizing with the human enemies. Meanwhile, Triton’s sister Ursula the Sea Witch (Caroline Lyell, channeling Mae West via Mrs.-Lovett-meets-Mr.-Limpet), spreads her witchery across the waters to comically dire effect. 

The ensemble does swimmingly throughout, but watch especially for Meredith Aleigha Wells. She uses a wheelchair, and from that chair, brings Flaster’s choreography to life with grace, verve, and enough energy and spark to power eels. 

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