January 12, 2008 / 12:12 AM / 11 years ago

"Little Mermaid" flounders on Broadway

NEW YORK (Reuters) - “The Little Mermaid” could struggle to find legs in the transition from screen to stage after critics on Friday panned the latest musical offering from the Walt Disney Co. a day after its debut on Broadway.

Based on the animated 1989 film and the 1836 Hans Christian Andersen tale, “The Little Mermaid” replaces Disney’s successful “Beauty and the Beast” — which closed in July after 13 years — and is competing with two other Disney hits, “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.”

According to critics, the reported $15 million Broadway tale of a mermaid who wants to live among humans could go the way of Disney’s “Tarzan,” which closed in July after just 14 months due to poor reviews and ticket sales.

“Sadly, following the demise of the joyless green blob that was ‘Tarzan,’ ‘The Little Mermaid’ suggests that on Broadway, the Disney magic touch has gone numb,” wrote New York Times critic Ben Brantley, calling the show a “musical blunderbuss.”

While “The Little Mermaid” cast received warm reviews, the show’s set and costumes were criticized.

“Underneath all this baroque ornamentation was a tiny, tinny little musical struggling for life,” wrote the New York Post’s Clive Barnes. It was “plastic, plastic everywhere, enough to lead you to drink.”

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News, wrote: “The production is busy, not exciting; mechanical, not magical.”

USA Today’s Elysa Gardner said she thought “The Little Mermaid” could stay afloat even though it was “ultimately less than the sum of its impressive parts, offering neither the richly imaginative spectacle of ‘The Lion King’ nor the old-fashioned vitality and charm of ‘Mary Poppins.”‘

But while the critics didn’t warm to “The Little Mermaid,” Brantley wrote: “You can never go broke underestimating the taste of pre-schoolers.”

Disney’s foray onto Broadway has now grown to a multimillion-dollar business. Figures from entertainment trade magazine “Variety” show “The Little Mermaid” has grossed $5.3 million for its 39 preview performances that began on November 3.

The show had been set to open on December 6, but was delayed until Thursday after a strike by stagehands darkened Broadway for nearly three weeks in November.

“The Lion King,” which celebrated 10 years on Broadway in November, has grossed nearly $546 million, while “Mary Poppins” has brought in more than $68 million since it opened in October 2006.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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