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Interview: Melvin Abston of THE LITTLE MERMAID National Tour

Ever sat down with a Broadway star who is currently playing Sebastian in the national tour of THE LITTLE MERMAID? No? Lucky me, then. I actually had the chance to chat with Melvin Abston and chat all things "Under the Sea." The football player turned thespian, has had a thirst for creating and performing since being in a Chicago-based a cappella group. Before starring in the Theatre Under the Stars' production of THE LITTLE MERMAID, Melvin had spent time on THE LION KING and SISTER ACT, both on Broadway and the national tours. Just take a look below and see what it takes to be the crabbiest star on tour. Get it?

JCA: THE LITTLE MERMAID is a landmark animated film by Disney. Then Tituss Burgess actually originated the role of Sebastian on Broadway, which you are currently playing on the national tour. How does it feel to play a part in the legacy of such a well-known show?

MA: It's, on one side, humbling, and also terrifying. It's humbling because, obviously, you get something that made such an impression on generations of people because this was done years ago. Parents can now share this magic with their children. You have a multi-generational fanbase, reliving their youth, sharing those moments where the child would play it four or five times in a row, while parents are singing in the background to the songs, too. The terrifying part is because it's made such an impression, if you don't do what's exactly in the movie sometimes it's frowned upon. What you might not know is that this is another version. It's like the Broadway version but we have taken the Hans Christian Anderson take on some things as well.

JCA: I actually saw that you played Sebastian at Houston's TUTS. Was it like riding a bike?

MA: It's essentially the same show but some of the cast has changed. That was my initial introduction to it and since then we have toured and visited multiple cities. It's absolutely like revisiting an old friend. When the cast changes, though, it allows for new interpretation, new voices so you never get complacent with it. It's always new and fun in that way.

JCA: How did this opportunity to be in the national tour come about?

MA: The beginning of it all I was actually in Austin doing a play and a casting director that I had worked with previously sent me an email asking for me to send in a video for a project she thought I would be perfect for. It was so different from the drama that I was doing currently so I initially turned it down. So she circled back around later on and I ended up sending in an audition tape. She got it and said it was exactly what she needed. It ended up happening that I got cast with TUTS. We did five or six cities and kept getting asked to perform in various places. Then the idea of doing an actual tour come up and I said do I want to keep doing a role that I have never had more fun in? So I said sign me up.

JCA: You have been on quite a few national tours it looks like. What keeps you coming back to touring?

MA: To be a travel junkie is also to be really interested in seeing how other parts of the country work. NYC is unlike really every other city in the world with the except of London and Tokyo and such. To travel allows you to become a more well-rounded person. How are people in Columbus? What's Cincinnati like? I think it makes a lot more sense to travel because it allows you to find out more about other people but also about yourself.

JCA: Do you ever feel pressure when taking on an iconic role to be what people expect you to be on stage? If so, how do you handle that?

MA: I think the pressure comes in at the audition. You want to be who they chose but once you get past that and you find the truth in whatever it is. I think those supersede pressure from outside sources. You are never going to find anyone who is going to be a larger critique for me other than myself. As far as pressure, we are all chasing Samuel Wright's shadow. He was the original Sebastian in the animated film, he was the original Mufasa in LION KING on Broadway. There is what I assume is a small circle of people who have had the chance to play Sebastian, and we all want to leave our mark.

JCA: You have also appeared in a really large handful of TV shows from WEEDS, ER, and GREY'S ANATOMY. Do you see film as the next evolution of your acting career?

MA: Acting is acting, be it for film and TV, etc. Acting is acting, and the more opportunities that I get to do it, despite the medium, the happier I am. Whatever comes along, the approach to it doesn't change, the only thing that does is how the work is captured. In short, I will continue to take those opportunities, which ever come up. Right now, it's been mostly theatre. Now that I am on the road, it doesn't happen as often because I'm in the seas of Sebastian's world.

JCA: But nothing quite compares to live theatre, right?

MA: Instant reaction: the magic that goes along with it, the overture plays, you can hear the audience crackling with anticipation, leaning in with laughter, the curtain call, all of those things add up to that it's addictive. That interaction. Each and every show is different and those are experiences are something that the audience and cast can only share.

The national tour of THE LITTLE MERMAID is currently performing in Seattle through December 31, 2016. The tour will have five performances in Atlanta from January 12-15, 2016, with planned tour dates in various locations already set until late March.

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