‘Little Mermaid’ concert screenings have an ocean of treats lined up for Disney fans
Sebastian sure knows how to throw a party under the sea. But it sounds like even he would be impressed by the party that’s coming together for Disney fans under the clamshell of the Hollywood Bowl next week.
The Little Mermaid will get the live concert screening treatment at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl on June 3, 4, and 6. The event’s creative director, Richard Kraft, has told HitFix the deets on all the exciting plans for the three shows that are sure to make Disney fans squee.
Film screenings paired with a live orchestra performance of the movie’s score is no new thing. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Back to the Future are among the concert screenings at the Bowl HitFix has reported on in the past.) But events like this, for a musical, with live singing timed to picture, are new. As far as Kraft is aware, last Halloween’s Nightmare Before Christmas event at the Hollywood Bowl, which he produced with fellow musician rep Laura Engel, was the first instance of a public screening of a movie musical with a live orchestra and singers synced to the film.
In the words of a certain sea witch, “life’s full of tough choices, innit?” But deciding how to follow up last Halloween’s live concert screening of was no tough choice. The movie that started Disney Animation’s renaissance was the obvious pick for Kraft’s next event at the Los Angeles venue.
While the Nightmare event had members of the original cast, like Danny Elfman, reprising their roles, the idea behind the Little Mermaid event was to have other singer-actors (a group that would make “the greatest dinner party,” Kraft said) take on beloved characters like Ariel and Sebastian.
Playing everyone’s favorite redhead mermaid is Sara Bareilles, who was nine years old at the time The Little Mermaid was released.
The “Love Song” singer said “yes” to the gig with record speed. Kraft was chatting with Bareilles’ lawyer about the event. In the middle of that conversation, the legal rep emailed Bareilles about the concert screening, and she emailed back 15 seconds later, Kraft said.
Sara Bareilles will sing the part of Ariel at the Hollywood Bowl concert screenings. Image credits: Charles Sykes/Bravo; Walt Disney Animation Studios
Disney fans said “yes” to the event crazy-fast too: When just one show, the June 3 one, had been announced, tickets to the 17,000-seat Bowl sold out within three hours. Two more shows were added. There are still tickets available for the show on Monday, June 6 and limited seats open for the June 3 and 4 shows with some tickets having been released since selling out.
Also in the cast: Pitch Perfect actress Rebel Wilson as Ursula, 14-year-old theater actor Joshua Colley as Flounder, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, reprising his role as the crooning crab from the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid.
In the role of Chef Louis is John Stamos — casting that Kraft expects will be a hit for any ’90s-nostalgic audience members who love Full House as much as they adore The Little Mermaid.
John Stamos will sing "Les Poissons" as Chef Louis. Image credits: Walt Disney Animation Studios; John P. Fleenor/Fox
Some super-competitive Disney memorabilia auctions are to thank for Stamos getting the part.
That’s how Kraft knows Stamos. The two would go head-to-head, bidding for the same items in these auctions. One item that Kraft beat out Stamos to get is a sea serpent figure from Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage ride (which has since been refurbished with a Finding Nemo theme). Another item: the three hitchhiking ghosts from the Haunted Mansion ride, though both Kraft and Stamos ended up losing out on that one.
Stamos and Burgess gave us a bit of a Little Mermaid preview earlier this month when they sang some of “Kiss the Girl” on The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Playing the part of Prince Eric is Darren Criss, of Glee and A Very Potter Musical fame. The dashing prince doesn’t have a song in the movie, but Criss won’t miss out on the chance to show off his music chops at the shows next week. He’ll sing “Her Voice” from the Little Mermaid Broadway musical.
Two other tunes from the Broadway musical that will be in the Bowl show: King Triton’s “The World Above,” sung by Norm Lewis, who also played Ariel’s dad in the Broadway show. And Flounder’s song “She’s In Love.” Kraft is considering also adding “If Only (Quartet),” sung by Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian, and King Triton. During those songs from the stage musical, the screen at the Bowl will display concept art from the movie.
Darren Criss is set for the part of Prince Eric at the event. Image credits: Walt Disney Animation Studios; Ben Hider/Fox
The real star that Disney fans are sure to geek out over, though, is Alan Menken, the composer who has given us so many of the House of Mouse’s catchy hits, teamed with such lyricists as Howard Ashman and Stephen Schwartz.
Menken, who won two Oscars for The Little Mermaid, will be the opening act at the June 3 and June 4 shows. He’ll perform a 20-minute medley of several of his popular Disney songs — just him and a microphone and a piano, so the audience will get to hear what these songs sounded like in the demos the composer made in the early stages of making each film. Kraft is the composer’s agent.
Menken is not able to make the June 6 concert (there’s a score for a little movie called Beauty and the Beast that he will be recording in London that day). Fans in attendance that night won’t be without another Disney legend performance to geek out over: Set for the opening act are Brad Kane, the voice of Aladdin in the 1992 movie, and Susan Egan, who voiced Meg in Disney’s Hercules and played Belle in a Tony-nominated performance in the original Broadway cast of Beauty and the Beast.
“I had to figure out how to give them a duet,” Kraft told HitFix, “so I said, ‘We’re not sure if Belle and Aladdin ever met each other, but if they did, it’s possible they would have fallen in love.’ And what song would they sing? I go, ‘They'd probably sing an Alan Menken song.’”
We’re not sure Jasmine and the Beast be all that keen about that, but we’re sure the crowd at the Bowl will have a blast hearing Kane and Egan’s rendition of Tangled love ballad “I See the Light.”
Kane and Egan will also sing a few other songs, including one that’s a notable first for Kane — “Proud of Your Boy,” a Menken song cut from Aladdin before recording began. In the song, which would have gone where “One Jump Ahead” is in the film now, Aladdin dwells on how he’s disappointed his mother. The Hollywood Bowl event will be the first time the voice actor (who’s also a TV writer-producer, on shows like Fringe and Black Sails), has sung the song live at a public event. (In the video below, you can watch Adam Jacobs, star of Aladdin’s original Broadway cast, sing “Proud of Your Boy” with Menken at the piano.)
Also unable to be at the June 6 concert: Sara Bareilles, as she’ll be at a reception in New York along with other Tony nominees (she’s been honored for writing the stage musical adaptation of Waitress). Singing the part of Ariel at that show will be the original Ariel herself, Jodi Benson. “She still sounds great,” Kraft said.
Performing along with the star-studded lead vocal cast will be a 71-piece orchestra and a 13-person choir. When the event was first announced, that was a 12-person choir. Added since then is Jon Heely, Disney’s director of music publishing, who’s been consulting with Kraft in his preparations for the concert. Heely said to Kraft, “you know, I do sing…” and he had a part in the show.
While the event will feature a costume contest for attendees, the cast won’t be in costume. They’ll be in concert attire, though Kraft said the cast may pick ensembles that are subtly suggestive of their characters.
As for their physical performance, again this is a concert and not a staged musical, but there are a few iconic gestures and mannerisms that may make their way into the show.
“I’m going to really encourage Sara to do the Ariel thrust,” Kraft said.
The most difficult musical number to figure out how to make work in this set-up has been “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Kraft said. Throughout the show, the concert’s cast will sing their musical parts, but at spoken parts, the dialogue recorded for the film will play. But in Ursula’s saucy villain song, there is some dialogue as the song stops and starts. At this point, ahead of next week’s rehearsals, Kraft expects Ursula’s spoken parts of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” will be a mix of Pat Carroll’s recorded dialogue and Wilson live. The Aussie actress will sing the song in a different key than Carroll did since Carroll’s voice is so low.
“It’s just technically a very difficult piece to pull off,” Kraft noted.
But, he added, Wilson, “of everybody is the most on top of it, working with her vocal coach. Rebel is the most organized and professional person I’ve ever worked with.”
Just after pulling off the feat of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” though, conductor Michael Kosarin and his musicians will get a break — the intermission break will be right after Ariel gets her legs and breaks through the surface of the sparkling water in that gorgeous silhouetted shot.
“It was the perfect spot,” Kraft said. “It’s so dramatic.”
After the audience is back in their seats, before the film starts up again, they’ll get another musical treat: an 8-minute violin concerto based on the themes of Little Mermaid, commissioned just for this event.
Representing Menken and, now, planning Disney events is Kraft’s job. But he was a fan first. Mary Poppins was the first film he saw, at age 4 or 5, and “it was my first crush,” he recalled. “I was madly in love with Julie Andrews.”
He was a fan of Menken before being his agent too. He named his dog Shmenken (after Menken and Little Mermaid lyricist Howard Ashman). When Menken won his Oscars for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, Kraft sent the composer Shmenken’s paw print as a congratulations “from” the dog.
“Years later I finally met him, and now I’m his agent, so I really had a journey of pure fan who now gets to be in the life of my idol,” Kraft said.
With the Little Mermaid concert screenings, ultimately, Kraft is figuring out how to pull out all the stops for Disney fans. A fireworks spectacular is event set to be part of the show. “I’m sitting here figuring out if there’s a way to use bubble machines,” he said. “I have a history of throwing extremely elaborate birthday parties for myself and my son. I’ve gotten in the habit of figuring out how to throw crazy parties, and now this is the biggest crazy party I’ve ever gotten to throw.”