BWW Review: Talented All-Star Cast Brings Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID to the Hollywood Bowl
The novelty of having a large symphony orchestra perform a film score live while the original movie plays along above their heads is certainly not a new concept, but the smart and savvy architects behind the sold out Live-In-Concert presentation of Disney's 1989 animated classic THE LITTLE MERMAID at the 17,000-seat Hollywood Bowl have indeed created a wholly wonderful experience that wowed the opening night audience on Friday, June 3 (initial demand for the show was so overwhelming, they added a second concert on Saturday, June 4 and a third on Monday, June 6 to satisfy demand).
Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Live In Concert To Film---presented in partnership with Disney Concerts---owes much of its must-see status to the winning all-star line-up that has been assembled for this special event. Yet although the cast may have been the initial draw, the audience was treated to a truly magical evening all around.
At dusk, while patrons (some in full costume) dined on their picnics in their seats, special guest Alan Menken---THE LITTLE MERMAID's eight-time Academy Award-winning co-composer---treated the audience with a pre-show medley of his own greatest hits, singing everything from NEWSIES and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, to his memorable Disney portfolio of hits that includes songs from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, ENCHANTED, TANGLED, and even Marvel's Captain America and the recently shuttered TV musical comedy Galavant.
Soon, as the orchestra and chorus began to assemble to their seats on stage, Menken (like a proud papa) beamed about the possibilities that lay ahead. He explained that because not all of the characters in the original Disney film sang a song in the movie, the evening's concert will also be incorporating four songs from the Broadway musical adaptation he co-wrote with lyricist Glenn Slater to give periphery characters a chance to be represented at the Bowl (the songs he co-wrote with original lyricist Howard Ashman, of course, are well-represented). Menken was especially proud to note, too, that many of the musicians on the stage were also many of the same artists that performed the recorded music for the movie's soundtrack.
The concert, as in the movie, began with a rousing "Fathoms Below" sung by the concert's ensemble chorus. The female ensemble followed up with a spirited "Daughters of Triton."
Thus began a conveyor belt of huge stars singing a musical number one after another. The movie faded to black on screen so that the film's dialogue can transition to a live musical number sung on stage, which, at first, seemed a bit intrusive, but eventually became a thrilling way to anticipate the next star entrance.
And, my gosh, the music was heavenly. The exquisitely lush sounds from the 71-piece orchestra conducted by Michael Kosarin were perfectly synced with the film throughout the glitch-free evening, highlighting just how gorgeous and layered Menken's score has always been for this film. I was mesmerized hearing the isolated score as I've never heard it (even with the drunks in the box next to me more concerned with their food and phones than what's happening on stage).
Along with a 12-member chorus, the assembled orchestra was soon joined one-by-one by the headliners to sing songs live, with Glee's Disney-loving breakout heartthrob (and Broadway standout) Darren Criss announcing intros from off-stage (he himself announced his own entrance in the second half to sing his own dreamy solo, dressed head-to-toe in perfect Prince Eric cosplay).
Up first---fresh off her songwriting Tony Award nomination for her new Broadway musical WAITRESS---was critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, who led the cast solos as title character Ariel, sporting a sparkly sea-blue mermaid-like gown and fiery-red tips in her hair reminiscent of her character's red locks in the animated film. Her first number, "Part of Your World" sounded flawlessly sweet and amazing, which, naturally, was no surprise. I even got a little teary-eyed a bit listening to her rendition, which thankfully wasn't just a mere carbon-copy of how it was rendered in the film.
The incredibly bubbly and entertaining scene-stealer from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tituss Burgess---reprising the role of Sebastian he originated in the Broadway production---was a resounding hit with "Under The Sea" and later with the playful "Kiss The Girl." Burgess really just needs to be in everything... the guy is so much fun to watch. Broadway belter extraordinaire Norm Lewis---who sang here as King Triton, a role he too originated on Broadway---sang a powerful rendition of "The World Above" that had many in the Bowl cheering on their feet. Adorable Joshua Colley (from A BRONX TALE and LES MISERABLES) gave a lively, super sassy performance as Ariel's BFF-ish Flounder in "She's In Love" (another written-for-Broadway song) surrounded by a spritely female ensemble.
Two stars, though, handily stole the show with their respective appearances. Pitch Perfect's Rebel Wilson, wearing white mile-high hair and a deliciously evil snarl was absolutely delightful as the villainous sea witch Ursula. She had lots of fun with "Poor Unfortunate Souls" then had the audience in stitches when she "steals" Ariel's voice by, of course, stuffing it into her heaving cleavage. Much later, TV staple John Stamos, sporting a trés French mustache, had the whole Bowl laughing as he hammed it up as crab-loving Chef Louis during "Les Poissons." At one point, during the film's infamous Can-Can chaos interlude, he even managed to trade places with conductor Kosarin to lead the orchestra himself with a wooden spoon for a baton. Fun cameo.
By the time Criss stepped in equipped with guitar and teen dream smolder to sing "Her Voice" (another song featured in the Broadway production), the audience was swooning. The guy definitely has stage presence.
Arguably the evening's best number, though, was the quartet on the written-for-Broadway "If Only" that featured Criss, Bareilles, Burgess, and Lewis in a virtual four-way sing-off that was as beautiful as it was moving. My gosh, these folks are talented.
The audience, of course, cheered for the movie's happy ending which culminated with a dazzling fireworks display above the bowl as the end credits rolled on the screen. But alas... there's still one more surprise! Bareilles, exuding genuine joy and fangirling, introduced special surprise guest Jody Benson, the original voice of Ariel in the film who closed the evening, fittingly enough, with her own version of "Part of Your World" that became the cherry on top of this rich dessert of an evening. She also thanked the film's directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who came out and waved hello.
If any other producing team wants to stage a similar type of event such as this in the future, I surely hope they were in the audience taking notes. This film-and-live-music hybrid concert was exactly how these should be done.
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Photos from the Opening Night Performance of Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Live In Concert To Film at the Hollywood Bowl by Randall Michelson.
Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Live in Concert to Film is produced by Andrew Hewitt and Bill Silva Presents, Laura Engel and Richard Kraft, and Tim Fox and Alison Ahart Williams, in association with Disney Concerts. Concert creative direction is by Richard Kraft. Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID Live in Concert to Film is produced under license by Disney Concerts, a division of ABC Inc.
Full Cast of THE LITTLE MERMAID In Concert
Full Cast of THE LITTLE MERMAID in Concert
Joshua Colley and Female Ensemble
Joshua Colley and Female Ensemble
Joshua Colley and Female Ensemble
Tituss Burgess and Male Ensemble
THE LITTLE MERMAID Live In Concert to Film