The Phoinix Players have made it their ongoing — and often lonely — mission to single-handedly revive musical theater in Eugene, and they do an admirable job at conjuring the sort of song-and-dance productions that sent Broadway hellzapoppin’ from the era of Tin Pan Alley to the Great Depression. The troupe, a clutch of talented 20-somethings, is adept at mounting small-scale floorshows that oftentimes achieve a kind of retro grandeur. When they’re on, they hit the mark beautifully.
This time around, with Daughter of Triton (smartly written by director Mary Huls), the Phoinix Players move outside their comfort zone, with mixed results. The show is a rock-and-roll retelling of The Little Mermaid story, and as such it’s full of irony and funny jabs at Disney’s monopoly on the popular fable. Huls and her crew trot out a nostalgic stew of classic rock songs, mostly from the ’70s and ’80s, ranging from Joan Jett to Prince. The numbers that work are invigorating, such as the ensemble stomp of Styx’s “Come Sail Away.” On the other hand, it’s iffy whether anyone other than the Purple One should touch “Purple Rain,” and though a gutsy choice, it doesn’t quite come off here.
After a spotty first act, however, Daughter of Triton picks up momentum, thanks in large part to a stellar performance by Heather Wood as the musical’s baddie, Marina. Wood has a clear, strong singing voice, and her chops as an actress are evident; she revels in the role, leering and snarling with each twist of her character’s evil schemes. It’s fun to watch Wood strut the stage, and her deliciously bad vibes are what make this show really rock.
Daughter of Triton runs through March 22 at The Red Cane Theatre, 1075 Chambers; $14-$18.Call 541-556-4524 for ticket info.