Little Mermaid, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Marc Robin’s adaptation of the fairy tale, which he also directs, borrows as much from Disney as from Hans Christian Andersen. Though the heroine’s name has been changed from Ariel to Melody (Johanna McKenzie Miller), her fresh-scrubbed sweetness and pop-star belt remain the same. Melody is accompanied by two guardian sidekicks, but Ariel’s flounder and crab have been replaced by a panicky frog and curmudgeonly turtle (Chris Petschler and David Lively)–more practical choices for characters moving between land and sea. As in the Disney pic, the young maiden’s coming-of-age tale has turned into a Freudian tug-of-war between father and lover with some heavy-handed Christian overtones and a pleasing but unsurprising ending.
There’s much to delight young senses and sensibilities: neon fish glow in black light, “floating” in the hands of bit players dressed in black; magical creatures shimmer in Jeff Hendry’s layered, richly textured costumes; and James Savage’s sound design fills the room with stormy sounds and amplifies the performers’ uniformly gorgeous voices (even drowning out commentary from audience members too young to know better). The happy conclusion is diametrically opposed to Andersen’s original, but hey–kids have plenty of time to learn about death and broken hearts. For now, I say, let them believe that every story ends with a wedding. Best of all, Robin’s production (he also choreographed and composed the music) involves plenty of audience participation–clapping, singing, yelling–which the Sunday-afternoon crowd embraced with gusto.