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The Sea Jewel

There is certainly no confusing Dalene Young's adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" with Walt Disney's animated film. Young's saga of the fall from grace of an idealistic young minister is much closer to the underlying philosophy of Andersen's morality tale; it is also disjointed and unrelentingly grim. Aside from the exotically beautiful pre-recorded musical interludes and songs of composer Stephen Cohn and a competent cast, director Royston Thomas offers no respite from the aura of doom and gloom.

With:
Honora ... Martha Demson Neptune ... Steve Rosenbaum Kristen ... Tom Blanton Melanie ... Sherri Stone Butler Willard ... Louis Balestra Ula ... Arizona Brooks

There is certainly no confusing Dalene Young’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” with Walt Disney’s animated film. Young’s saga of the fall from grace of an idealistic young minister is much closer to the underlying philosophy of Andersen’s morality tale; it is also disjointed and unrelentingly grim. Aside from the exotically beautiful pre-recorded musical interludes and songs of composer Stephen Cohn and a competent cast, director Royston Thomas offers no respite from the aura of doom and gloom.

Updated to the present age, Young’s tale follows the dubious career of minister Kristen (Tom Blanton) from his early days as a zealous leader of a small flock to his rise and fall as an evangelical star.

In his early efforts to create a miracle, he almost drowns in the ocean. He is rescued by the mermaid Ula (Arizona Brooks), who spends most of her time in an aquarium, hidden from view in the back room of a bar owned by her human mother, Honora (Martha Demson). Kristen and Ula declare their love and she makes the painful transformation into a human, much to the dismay of her mother and the outrage of her father, the sea god Neptune (Steve Rosenbaum). Kristen, on the other hand, has a bride with two increasingly burdensome qualities: she can never tell a lie and is constantly walking on blood-spattered feet (her former fins).

The rest of the plot has so many repetitions and convolutions that it takes much too long getting to its destination. And despite the considerable musical contribution of Cohn, the score suffers because much of the vocalizing has been pre-recorded, which serves to distance it from the onstage performances.

What does work in this production are the generally excellent performances. Blanton is a laser beam of intensity as Kristen, and Brooks evokes all the wonder and awe of an innocent creature facing the real world for the first time.

In supporting roles, Sherri Stone Butler is deliciously evil as Kristen’s former fiancee, Melanie, and Steven Rosenbaum makes a gleeful, lascivious Neptune. Also adding solid support are Martha Demson as the love-starved Honora and Louis Balestra as the ethereal poet Willard.

The production also features excellent design concepts by Butler and Rich Comito, Lackemacher (lighting), and Elizabeth Muxi and Marcia De Costa (costumes).

The Sea Jewel

(Open Fist Theatre, Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 15 top)

Production: The Open Fist Theatre Company presents the world premiere of a play in two acts by Dalene Young; adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid." Directed by Royston Thomas.

Creative: Music, Stephen Cohn; producer, Ina Russell; sets, Sherri Stone Butler, Rich Comito; lighting, Bill Lackemacher; costumes, Marcia De Costa, Elizabeth Muxi; musical director, Wanda Houston. Opened Jan. 20, 1995; reviewed Jan. 22; runs through March 11. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast: Honora ... Martha Demson Neptune ... Steve Rosenbaum Kristen ... Tom Blanton Melanie ... Sherri Stone Butler Willard ... Louis Balestra Ula ... Arizona BrooksWith: Bryn Gauer, Skye Fraser, Krystal Ware, Phil Bell, Marla Cotovsky, Dean Erickson, Jill Fischer, Wanda Houston, Tony Sanders, William Jefferson, Scott Lee, Ginna Rutter.

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