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The Little Mermaid as Presented by Shannon Musical Society

The Little Mermaid as presented by Shannon Musical Society: 

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Tuesday 13th February, 2024. 

What is the world coming too? Never did I imagine that I would someday witness a show where people play fish with wheels, crabs, and all manner of weird sea-creatures, where a woman with a false moustache would play a demented Chef and where a cross-dressing man would play an octopus, looking like a monstrous cross between Caitlin Jenner and Cruella de Ville. It was almost enough to completely addle my brain. Who knew that The Little Mermaid could provide a canvass for such an extreme display of flamboyance and creative imagination?

The man behind this flight of fancy was Director, Tony Finnegan, and, call me ‘woke’, but I think he’s perfectly entitled to put his unique stamp on what is, after all, a surreal and fantastical fairy-tale. Tony pulled out all the stops to bring this Disney classic to life on the stage. From excellent water and wave effects, using material and lights, to mermaids who ‘glided’ on wheels instead of walking, to flamboyantly dressed characters to a dazzling set, from gentle focus on the romantic elements of the story to outrageously brilliant exaggeration of the comical characters, his attention to every aspect of the production was most impressive. The finale of Act One was a prime example of vision, choreography, technical wizardry and spectacle all rolled together as Ariel found her feet and swam higher and higher to find dry land, and it epitomized the great creative thinking behind this whole production.

From the beautifully designed, painted and utilized set, to a neatly plotted lighting design, this was such a well-presented show. Tony handled the atmosphere of the underwater world with a combination of great visuals, appropriate movement and excellent sound effects. The gently babbling water throughout created its own perfect ambiance, and indeed the sound levels generally were very even and well-cued. The bubble lighting effects worked particularly well on the gently wafting net curtains, and there was a strong and sensitive use of good colour washes and combinations. The only slight hiccup in the lighting plot was the few occasions when moving heads were used as follow spots and had trouble keeping pace with the swiftly moving actors, but they did always get them in the end. Movement of props and scenic pieces was tidy and timely, in the safe hands of Stage Manager, Ted Germaine and an efficient team.

The challenge for Choreographer, Karen Barrett, was to create routines that captured the type of creatures being featured in each number; seagulls moving like birds, mermaids moving like fish, etc, and what a great job she did. The wheels worn by the mermaids helped considerably in making them glide, rather than walking, and they performed their beautiful routines with great skill. The birds flapped and flustered through their comedic number, and the humans, fortune to have legs, were extremely polished in their sailor and townsfolk routines. Karen put so much thought into every dance, but it was the superb fusion of costumes, make-up, scenery and the wonderfully imaginative, ever-changing patterns that made Under The Sea an absolute show-stopper. Of course, it might all have fallen flat had she not been fortunate enough to have a highly talented chorus to bring it to life. Discipline was of the essence with so much activity and exaggerated costumes, and their every move,

whether in dance or as scene-shifters, was meticulously choreographed so that the stage never appeared over-crowded. And it didn’t end there. I’m quite sure

Musical Director, Carmel Griffin, was just as impressed with their dedication to strong, clear harmonies and perfect diction. Carmel also led a very finely tuned orchestra from the piano. Their tone and tempi throughout were spot on, and the balance between pit and stage was well-maintained. As with the chorus, great work had also been done on principal vocals, always capturing the right tone for each number. And what a gifted line-up of principals was on show.

Sally Fox and Eoghan Mann could not have been better cast as Ariel and Prince Eric, encapsulating the qualities required for the Disney-style romantic couple. She, the sweet, innocent yet vulnerable Princess, fair of face and with an angelic quality to her voice, and he, the impetuous, boyishly handsome young Prince, in search of true love, with a well-sung song in his heart. These two worked as beautifully together as individually, strongly realizing the characters that are so loved by Disney aficionados. High quality recordings of Sally singing were used when Ariel was mute, to which she mimed her emotions beautifully.

At only 15 years of age, James Cullinan took to the role of Flounder like a duck…well, like a fish to water, and in the presence of much more experienced players, he most certainly didn’t flounder, not even for a second. Like the cheeky-chap of his character, he beamed with confidence, securely presented his comedic abilities, and dynamically led the mersisters in an excellent rendition of She’s in Love. Very well-played.

Sebastian, the red Jamaican crab, (for those who misguidedly think he might be a lobster), was brilliantly realized by Brian Roche, whose accent throughout (including welcoming the audience) was spot on, as was his comedy. No crusty crustacean here, but a vibrant, hyper thyroid of a crab who rocked the house as the front man for the show-stopping Under The Sea.

In an excellent flamboyant costume, Julita Fox the role of the scatterbrained Scuttle, a sea bird with an overactive imagination and a flair for inventing her own vocabulary. Played with superb character, Julita strutted the stage with terrific comedic charm and raised the roof with a delightfully, delirious Positoovity.

Colm McGuinness, attired in a fabulous costume and wig, played the role of King Triton with poise and authority. His acting was sincere, and while the women in the audience seemed mostly enamored by his rippling muscular chest, (yes, he was topless!), it was the quality of his vocals that impressed me most, both velvety in tone and strong and secure in delivery. Eoin Sheedy gave a stalwart and steadfast performance as Grimsby, full of pomp and circumstance but with a likeable, gentler side. Very nicely played.

Then there was the sextet of fishy femininity, the mesmerizing Mersisters, delightfully portrayed by Kim Burke, (Aquata), Holly Dunphy, (Allana), Lauren O’Brien, (Arista), Jane Henry, (Atina), Jaymee Carrig, (Adella) and Kate Barrett, (Andrina). Collectively, they performed so well together, wheeling and dancing around the stage with great stealth, and vocally, except when they were deliberately unpleasant, they were extremely accomplished. Furthermore, they all managed to have little individual traits that made them identifiable. Beautifully attired, they were such an impressive and talented team.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m almost lost for words in describing how disturbing Aodan Fox’s first appearance was. Considering the role of Disney’s Ursula is believed to have been modelled on Drag Queen, Divine, I shouldn’t have been at all surprised that Tony Finnegan chose to have it recreated by Aodan, who was anything BUT divine, but this was a performance out of the very top drawer of character/comedy, helped along by a brilliant costume, a toxic wig and superbly grotesque make-up. But it was the acting of

Aodan himself, and his ability to deliver lyrics with just the right level of vim and verve, that made this such a memorable performance.

Not to be out-done in the cross-dressing stakes, Anna Maria Barrett, (Aodan’s wife) donned a chef’s hat and a fake moustache to create a hilarious cameo role as Chef Louie, obsessed with fish dishes and intimidating crabs. Anna Maria’s delivery of Les Poissons created great mirth in the audience, as did her delightfully comical appearance.

Alison Coady and Ciara Lynch made easy work of controlling the puppets for Flotsam and Jetsam, the electric eels who assisted Ursula with her dirty work. As well as good movement, the girls impressed with some strong vocals in their numbers. Darren O’Dea was a secure and reliable Pilot in the ship scenes and Ethan Cassley and Shane O’Donnell, as well as dancing in the choruses, also contributed comedy and character as footmen, Leeward and Winward.

Various chorus members also played a variety of cameos, including Child maids, Maeve McGuirk and Phoebe O’Mahony, who performed sign language with Ariel during her mute scenes.

You really could sense Disney written all over this production, and particularly in the visual spectacle on display. I’ve already mentioned the vibrant and highly colourful scenery and the beautiful lighting of the net curtains, but the costumes were really what caught the eye, from the beautiful floaty outfits of the mermaids to the colourful creations of the fish, from the craziest crab garb to the hideously superb octopus. Even the sailors and the members of Prince Eric’s court were immaculate in their attire. I can only wonder at the time it must have taken to attend to the make-up and wigs each night, as the amount of detail in all the non human characters was superb. It says something about this company’s team spirit that the Front of House display and hospitality is always on the same level as their commitment to putting a great show on the stage. The foyer was beautifully adorned with facts, features, photos and, on this occasion, fish. Great work.

I’m quite sure this is a show that could easily be done badly, for it needs a high level of magic and mystery to make a cartoon believable in a live performance venue, but I feel assured that not only did Tony bring out the best of this story, but it also brought out the best of him. Thanks to all involved. Job done!

Peter Kennedy

Gilbert Adjudicator 2023 / 2024

Some photos kindly shared by the society - Photos by Jim Rocks


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