With the end of the year comes more “live” television theatrical productions and this time it’s The Little Mermaid’s turn. Many like myself were not even born when The Little Mermaid first graced the big screen almost 30 years ago. When I found out that ABC and Disney were putting on a live production of the classic Disney tale, I was intrigued to say the least. The voice of Moana herself, Auli’i Cravalho, would be portraying our favorite red-headed mermaid with her gorgeous voice adding another Disney Princess role under her belt. Queen Latifah took on the role of Ursula with Shaggy as Sebastian and John Stamos as Chef Louis. Graham Phillips stepped into the shoes of the handsome Prince Eric.
Jodi Benson, the original Ariel herself opened the show so you know expectations were set high for this production. Things went well and some things didn’t but that is to be expected with any live production. The whole idea was to mix the live part with the original animated film but it relied so heavily on that. How it worked was the backdrop was a giant movie screen showing scenes from the film and introducing characters that we wouldn’t see on stage. King Triton for example was only shown in his animated form. Right at the beginning the event cut from the opening animated sequence of the original film to the stage production.This was the tone it had for the entire two hours; animated scenes that were then cut to stage segments. Honestly, you could have just sat back and watched the original because the majority of this production was just showing full-length clips from the 1989 film. I get why they did it but I feel it was used too much.
Now let’s get into some comparisons to the original film. Can you emulate Jodi Benson’s performance 100%? No of course not, but Auli’i Cravalho did a great job with what she had. Some of the key iconic songs, ‘Part of Your World’ and ‘Kiss the Girl’ in particular, were more like snippets and nods to the original rather than fully performed renditions of them. I understand that for many of these numbers you would need large set pieces and quick changes which aren’t realistic when you only have two-hours and are “live.” Queen Latifah honestly owned the show with her performance but to cut from her voice to the original animated Ursula ruined the consistency of the character.
I was a tad disappointed by some key performances, most notably Shaggy as Sebastian and John Stamos as Chef Louis. Yes, they were fun performances to watch but weren’t executed well. It almost seemed like they were making fun of some of these iconic moments and scenes instead of paying tribute to it. Sebastian didn’t even look like himself he looked more like a nod to Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller’. Come on Disney! Why were you so lazy with the costumes? Also the “dead eye” look from the puppet used for Flounder was lighting up Twitter last night. If that’s the only thing Twitter took away from the whole performance, you know its bad.
Some of the songs are from the Broadway production such as Prince Eric’s solo and Ariel after she loses her voice has a duet with Eric. This was something that did add some more depth to what Ariel was going through internally after she made the bargain with Ursula. I hope Disney keeps that idea in the new live-action film that is still trying to find its Prince Eric.
In terms of performances, some of the cast can sing and some simply can’t. For the younger audience watching it, they are sure to enjoy it without question. For those longtime fans who grew up with The Little Mermaid, you will most likely have a bit of sour taste in your mouth. What I did love was that the audience was a part of the production, which is a cute idea. They handed them props such as lobster claws during ‘Les Poissons’ number with John Stamos and ribbons to pretend to be the ocean during the opening the number. It was great to see that, but the constant cheering really got on my nerves. The audience was almost too loud at times to hear just what the heck was going on.
Yes, the finale still makes me cry years after I first watched the film and I am sure I was not alone. If you are in for some nostalgia you will love this production just for it being an ode to the thirtieth anniversary. Just don’t go in with high expectations and maybe pop on the original afterward if you want to watch the superior rendition, though with how much animation they put into this “live” version, that may not be necessary