BWW Review: THE LITTLE MERMAID LIVE! is an Inventive Way to Bring Live Musicals to Television
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the hit Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid, ABC aired a live musical event on Tuesday, November 5. The Little Mermaid Live! featured Auli'i Cravalho (Ariel), Queen Latifah (Ursula), Shaggy (Sebastian), Graham Phillips (Prince Eric) and John Stamos (Chef Louis).
ABC has departed from previous live musical events by choosing show the original animated film and cutting away only for the musical numbers. This created a more concert-like feel, not unlike the Hollywood Bowl's famous stage musicals. This inventive choice for television enabled ABC to have more fun with the show, without all of the pressure of hitting every mark that a 2-hour live production would've mandated.
The Little Mermaid Live! opened with a special message from the original Ariel herself, Jodi Benson, reminding old fans and new about the magic of this story, which has held a special place in millions of hearts over the last thirty years. The musical featured numbers from both the animated film and the 2007 Broadway musical, allowing for characters like Prince Eric to have a more robust part in the live musical.
The show began with footage from the animated film transitioning into first live number, Fathoms Below, a song that was added for the Broadway musical. The number introduced Graham Phillips, who plays Prince Eric, to viewers. Phillips is probably the least known performer of the night, but he was the most underrated part of the show. From songs like Her Voice to One Step Closer, Phillips proved he has the singing chops for the role and he also brought a great charm to Prince Eric, who wasn't the most well-rounded character in the original film.
The Daughters of Triton introduces Amber Riley as the Emcee, who's vocal power is evident, even though her character could have used some more stage time.
Auli'i Cravalho is first seen as Ariel during the famous song, Part of Your World. Cravalho, in a red wig and a tail that made her quite immobile, brought the right level of youth and curiosity to the role. Cravalho's voice seems to be made for Disney, and her chemistry with Phillips during Kiss the Girl and One Step Closer added a level of emotional to the otherwise more light-hearted production. (We do have to talk about the elephant-or should I say flounder- in the room, though, because the puppet used to portray Flounder during the live performances was unsettling at best.)
Shaggy comes out as Sebastian, everyone's favorite crustacean, for Under the Sea. ABC outfitted Shaggy in red pants and a red jacket, choosing a rather minimal costume for an otherwise grandiose production. Shaggy brought the cool to Sebastian, but I wished there had been a little more power behind his performance.
The performance of the night goes to Queen Latifah for her portrayal as Ursula the sea witch. Not only does Latifah has the vocal prowess for the role, she also has the stage presence to pull off such a flamboyant character. She was even able to play off one of her tentacles falling off during Poor Unfortunate Souls, using it as a sort of feather boa. Latifah had the perfect amount of power and life to the role, and she truly stole the show.
John Stamos had his own moment to shine, too, with his hilarious rendition of Les Poissons as Chef Louis. The number had great comedic timing, and even ended with Stamos accidentally saying, "I knew I should've played Prince Albert... or Eric," which honestly felt perfectly in character for him as Chef Louis to flub that off-the-cuff line. Les Poissons left me wondering, however, why they had so many crab costumes for the dancers, but nothing as suitable for Shaggy.
The use of aerial work in the musical numbers such as Daughters of Triton and Part of Your World was a great way to mimic mermaids swimming and added a lot of visual appeal to the numbers. The production truly went all out on costumes and set design, with vibrant sets and the perfect aquatic lighting. From mermaids to fish puppets and a real dog playing Max, the show was a fun and colorful event for the whole family!
Photo Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless