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Ivins • Perhaps 99.9 percent of the audience at the packed Tuacahn Amphitheater on Thursday night knew the "fish-out-of-water" story of Disney's Little Mermaid long before buying tickets. After all, the tale of the red-headed Princess Ariel, a mermaid who wants to become a human so she can marry the handsome Prince Eric, began as a popular movie and has been the subject of everything from ice shows to a Disney ride and princess toys. Tuacahn itself staged this musical three summers ago.

Some young girls in the audience even dressed as Ariel or clutched princess dolls as they filed into the 2,000-seat amphitheater.

So why pay up to $79.50 a ticket to see something so familiar?

The answer has much to do with the magic of live theater, especially the kind presented at an under-the-stars outdoor amphitheater that allows show director Scott Anderson wide latitude to present more than a few special effects.

These effects included fireworks, water flowing on the stage, a wall of water that could be used as a projection screen, a fountain near the back that could spew fire or also serve as a projection screen, zip lines that allowed actors and puppets to fly and swim over the audience and magical moving devices that allowed actors to appear as if swimming.

None were more impressive than the puppetry performed during the mostly black-light production number called "Les Poissons," where Chef Louis seems to be taken over by magic as invisible puppeteers dressed in black perform you-have-to-see-to-believe illusions with food, knives and cleavers.

This is simply theater as spectacle, where the story of the Little Mermaid, coupled with the memorable musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, is transformed into a dazzling array of sounds, music, sights and illusions.

I might have been the only person in the audience who had never seen the movie version of "The Little Mermaid" from start to finish. I found the two-hour show, with a 20-minute intermission, a little slow once or twice. And the story of a strong-willed mermaid princess who defies her father the king, loses her voice in a deal with her evil Aunt Ursula and eventually ends up married to her handsome prince is a simple one.

That said, it would be hard to imagine this play being produced any better. There wasn't a weak actor or voice in the bunch. Now more than halfway through its run, the production's cast has the difficult special effects down as well as great timing. The orchestra, conducted by Christopher Babbage offstage, sounds great. And, if you like puns, listen closely. There are a bunch.

The show's four main characters shine.

Emma Degerstedt is a beautiful Ariel, whose angelic voice makes her believable. James Royce Edwards, who also plays the lead in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which opened Friday night at Tuacahn, is easily imagined as a handsome prince.

Lawrence Cummings, as Sebastian the crab, must pull off perhaps the show's two most famous numbers, "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl." He nails the reggae accent. In "Kiss the Girl," he is accompanied by frog puppets at the front of the stage that provide the music in a truly magical number.

Heidi Anderson is a rightfully frightening villain, albeit one with a twinkle in her eye. With wild white hair, moving tentacles spread across the stage floor and towering above the other actors, she is a dominating presence. That is especially true when her face is projected onto the walls of water on or behind the stage.

The rest of the cast is uniformly good, from Matt Densky as the gull Scuttle, who does a lot of flying and squawking for comic relief, to Randal Keith as the regal King Triton,to young Payton Kemp as Flounder, to Michael Milkanin and Matthew Vargo as Ursula's evil buddies Flotsam and Jetsam, to Venny Carranza as the hilarious Chef Louis.

Tuacahn's production of "The Little Mermaid" delivers a fun evening of well-performed songs powered by amazing special effects and a talented cast.

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

Tuacahn's "The Little Mermaid"

A family-friendly special-effects filled spectacle of a familiar "fish-out-of-water" story of a mermaid who wants to become human to marry a handsome prince. Young theatergoers might enjoy meeting the actors who play the main characters in a meet-and-greet after the show.

When • Through Oct. 17, two or three nights a week (check for details)

Where • Tuacahn Amphitheater, Ivins

Tickets • $28.50 (children) to $65.50 (adults) weeknights, $46.50 (children) to $79.50 adults weekends

Running time • 2 hours with a 20-minute intermission

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