Animated movie classic is merged with musical performances
Familiar though “The Little Mermaid” is, a television version is about to offer it in a hybrid of forms.
When ABC revives the “Wonderful World of Disney” banner for “The Little Mermaid Live!” Tuesday, Nov. 5, sequences from the Disney film will be part of the proceedings marking its 30th anniversary. So will performances literally bringing to life the Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, including the tunes “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World” and “Kiss the Girl.”
“When it is the animated-feature section, it will play in its entirety,” explains variety-show veteran Hamish Hamilton, an executive producer and the director of the special. “We are not asking these guys to re-voice the original feature, (which) will exist exactly as it always has. Then, when we come to a song, we will transition from the original to the new.”
Auli’i Cravalho – who’s had Disney experience as the voice of Moana – will play mermaid Ariel in a cast that’s also set to include Shaggy as crab Sebastian, Queen Latifah as witch Ursula, John Stamos as Chef Louis and Graham Phillips (“The Good Wife”) as Prince Eric; Amber Riley (“Glee”) will serve as host. A full stage version of “The Little Mermaid” ran on Broadway in 2008-09, and songs composed for it (with lyrics by Glenn Slater) also will be incorporated into the television event.
“I think I share the curiosity and that joy that Ariel has,” Cravalho says in inheriting the role. “There is just so much room to play with that while, of course, still paying homage to the original character. And there’s so many beautiful set designs and just so much more that I know people will enjoy, I won’t have to worry too much about what I bring to the character. I bring myself, and I feel like that’s enough.”
“The Little Mermaid” has had other live incarnations at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl that also combined the movie and live performances. Sara Bareilles performed the part of Ariel and Rebel Wilson was Ursula in the 2016 version (which also featured Stamos), while Lea Michele and Harvey Fierstein had those parts this past May. Disney also is planning a live-action “Mermaid” movie, with Halle Bailey of the sibling music duo Chloe x Halle signed to play Ariel.
Composer Menken deems himself “like an architect” when it comes to his work: “I design a house that other people will live in, and I’ve been very fortunate that very talented people have lived in those houses or built those houses. I really like kind of being the grandpa. My children are born, they’re out in the world, and they’re finding their own way.”