Disney's Little Mermaid Heads to Broadway

Alan Menken discusses the difficulties of going "Under the Sea" on the Great White Way.

Given all the success Disney has found by bringing animated hits like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King to Broadway, it stands to reason that they'd eventually go back to the film that started the studio's animation renaissance, The Little Mermaid. The film's composer, Alan Menken, is working on the book for the play.

"I really hadn't thought about Mermaid for the stage, for the challenge of being under the sea," said Menken. "As everyone knows, that was one of the difficulties. But once Francesca Zambello started working with George Tsypin -- his sets use light in this brilliant way that takes it on to look aquatic or look like the sea, along with all the other stage craft that is available to us -- then it became possible. It had actually been in the works for five years, though. We'd been working on it in various ways."

The other Disney plays have embellished the story to provide more opportunities for songs, a tradition that will be upheld by the stage production of Mermaid. "The original songs by Howard Ashman and I are there. Ten new songs, as well, with Glenn Slater -- that's the name of the lyricist -- and I think it's quite seamless. Like Beauty and the Beast, it's going to be a very seamless experience, and audiences seem to love it."

So far, early buzz is good. "We had our first preview last night on Broadway. I received e-mails from a number of people who have all said that it went really, really well."

Comments

Karl

John Locke

Could work

Dec 28 - 11:15 AM

Mickaelmc

Mickael McCaffrey

yeah. It could work.

Dec 28 - 12:15 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

How long has the human race been telling stories and setting them to music? Is there really no other narrative material worth developing for theatre? I like not knowing the ending. I like not knowing how the songs fit into the story then buying the ticket to find out (Oh, the girl is neglected and abused by the innkeepers, that's why she sings Castle on a Cloud). But to take animated Dinsey flicks, great as they are, and make them for the stage, it just enrages me. Kids watch them again and again and again, and if you're not a kid, you're a parent or an uncle of one, and you just get overexposed. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Boycot. The emperor has no clothes.

Dec 28 - 12:49 PM

homeimp

Rob Wills

I don't understand this comment. It is something like saying you should never meet up with old friends wearing new clothes, but rather look for new friends all the time. Or worse, once you've got to know the old friends sufficiently, trade them in on new friends.

Dec 28 - 01:09 PM

willvaughn70

William Vaughn

i agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes it's best to rant to yourself, not on a site where everyone can see you make an *** of yourself.

Dec 28 - 01:27 PM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

rt_hire_me> I'm really not sure what your complaint is at all. It's a cute rant but there's no real substance there. I, for one, am fine with the adaptation of these tales to the stage. After all, Disney is just continuing a tradition set by the brothers Grimm--two men who understood the magic of folktales and childhood yarns, the need for them to be repeated and immortalized, so much so that they were bound between the covers of a book--and Disney is still one of the better innovators when it comes to things like stagecraft and physical storytelling. Yes, The Little Mermaid may work on stage (Disney is more or less 2 for 3 as Tarzan did not work as expected) but what's more important is that the innovations in lighting and set design Disney will offer to future stage directors will, we can only hope, inspire new stories and make that which lives within our own dreams and imagination possible to share with audiences.

Take some time off from bitching about companies like Disney and worry more about the fact that there is better television than theater releases and only one or two high profile stage productions each year. It might be nice if Disney once again brought a little spotlight to the stage.

That is all.

*steps off the soapbox*

Dec 28 - 09:20 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

My complaint:
This is lazy. This is not a triumph of creative spirit. It is a victory for bean counters. What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk? How about a stage adaptation of an animated movie with fantastic songs already made that we know everyone will like, because hey, they liked it the first time. We don't have to invest in a new libretto and we don't have to pay anyone for new songs, other than stuff to fill the inbetweens.
They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre. 'Drowsy Chaperone? Avenue Q? Spamelot? Into the Woods? Wicked? Never heard of them. But wait - what's this... Little Mermaid. Oh joy, this is going to be a hoot!'

"It is something like saying you should never meet up with old friends wearing new clothes, but rather look for new friends all the time. Or worse, once you've got to know the old friends sufficiently, trade them in on new friends."

I like my old friends, but they tell the same stories. They've told the same stories so many times they can't even keep track of who they've told them to. Old stories don't require effort. They've elicited laughter and joy in the past, and they'll deliver again. But you don't want to tell new stories because, well, you have to think hard (energy) and what if nobody likes it (risk)?
You know who made good musical theatre? Scrubs. It's on Youtube, a song about Poo. That's right Mouseketeers, Poo, not Pooh. It's sparkly and original and it makes theatre lovers cry, because while it still uses the old vaudeville conventions, it's new. Somebody who loved musical theatre invested their mind and soul into a sparkly, original never-before-seen or heard brilliant musical production about using fecal samples to detect disease.
So, here's my suggestion, because I can see through your aliases you Disney majority shareholders, and I appreciate that you're listening: find out who made that song for Scrubs. Hire that individual. Ask them what other creative ideas lie in their highly creative minds. Get it out of them, they want to tell you. They've been holding it in all this long strike. And voila, maybe you'll have a beautiful new production. You never know.

"worry more about the fact that there is better television than theater releases"

You're right, BM. It just goes to show, when you wish upon a star, like Disney, somebody like the Scrubs writers with more vitality and energy is going to come along and kick your lazy asterisk.

Dec 28 - 10:04 PM

Eat.Before.We.Eat.You

Derek Ornee

A few comments, if I may, rt_hire_me (and I assure you, I hold no Disney stock):

"What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk?": I think it's not reasonable to expect major studios to take huge risks to maybe produce some high quality theater along with some not-so-good. Why would they want to take a risk when they can produce a sure thing? Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they did, but they would much rather make a crappy (which I don't think it will be) but well-known theatrical adaptation of a hit movie that will make them tons of money than take a chance on making something that might be ten times as good but doesn't make as much money. That got a little confusing, sorry. Bottom-line: studios want as much money as they can get.

"They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre": Of course that's what they think. And I think that the teeming, moronic masses prove them right. Most people are stupid.

So, to re-cap: studios are greedy and people are stupid.

Dec 31 - 12:37 AM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

Oh and homeimp and wilvaughn70, sorry to step on your posts. I agree with both of you wholeheartedly.

Dec 28 - 09:21 PM

homeimp

Rob Wills

I don't understand this comment. It is something like saying you should never meet up with old friends wearing new clothes, but rather look for new friends all the time. Or worse, once you've got to know the old friends sufficiently, trade them in on new friends.

Dec 28 - 01:09 PM

willvaughn70

William Vaughn

i agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes it's best to rant to yourself, not on a site where everyone can see you make an *** of yourself.

Dec 28 - 01:27 PM

willvaughn70

William Vaughn

i agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes it's best to rant to yourself, not on a site where everyone can see you make an *** of yourself.

Dec 28 - 01:27 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

I know a place where no-one's lo-o-st
Nobody shouts and noone cri-es
They love originality
So there home imp and will vaughn 70

Dec 28 - 01:55 PM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

rt_hire_me> I'm really not sure what your complaint is at all. It's a cute rant but there's no real substance there. I, for one, am fine with the adaptation of these tales to the stage. After all, Disney is just continuing a tradition set by the brothers Grimm--two men who understood the magic of folktales and childhood yarns, the need for them to be repeated and immortalized, so much so that they were bound between the covers of a book--and Disney is still one of the better innovators when it comes to things like stagecraft and physical storytelling. Yes, The Little Mermaid may work on stage (Disney is more or less 2 for 3 as Tarzan did not work as expected) but what's more important is that the innovations in lighting and set design Disney will offer to future stage directors will, we can only hope, inspire new stories and make that which lives within our own dreams and imagination possible to share with audiences.

Take some time off from bitching about companies like Disney and worry more about the fact that there is better television than theater releases and only one or two high profile stage productions each year. It might be nice if Disney once again brought a little spotlight to the stage.

That is all.

*steps off the soapbox*

Dec 28 - 09:20 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

My complaint:
This is lazy. This is not a triumph of creative spirit. It is a victory for bean counters. What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk? How about a stage adaptation of an animated movie with fantastic songs already made that we know everyone will like, because hey, they liked it the first time. We don't have to invest in a new libretto and we don't have to pay anyone for new songs, other than stuff to fill the inbetweens.
They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre. 'Drowsy Chaperone? Avenue Q? Spamelot? Into the Woods? Wicked? Never heard of them. But wait - what's this... Little Mermaid. Oh joy, this is going to be a hoot!'

"It is something like saying you should never meet up with old friends wearing new clothes, but rather look for new friends all the time. Or worse, once you've got to know the old friends sufficiently, trade them in on new friends."

I like my old friends, but they tell the same stories. They've told the same stories so many times they can't even keep track of who they've told them to. Old stories don't require effort. They've elicited laughter and joy in the past, and they'll deliver again. But you don't want to tell new stories because, well, you have to think hard (energy) and what if nobody likes it (risk)?
You know who made good musical theatre? Scrubs. It's on Youtube, a song about Poo. That's right Mouseketeers, Poo, not Pooh. It's sparkly and original and it makes theatre lovers cry, because while it still uses the old vaudeville conventions, it's new. Somebody who loved musical theatre invested their mind and soul into a sparkly, original never-before-seen or heard brilliant musical production about using fecal samples to detect disease.
So, here's my suggestion, because I can see through your aliases you Disney majority shareholders, and I appreciate that you're listening: find out who made that song for Scrubs. Hire that individual. Ask them what other creative ideas lie in their highly creative minds. Get it out of them, they want to tell you. They've been holding it in all this long strike. And voila, maybe you'll have a beautiful new production. You never know.

"worry more about the fact that there is better television than theater releases"

You're right, BM. It just goes to show, when you wish upon a star, like Disney, somebody like the Scrubs writers with more vitality and energy is going to come along and kick your lazy asterisk.

Dec 28 - 10:04 PM

Eat.Before.We.Eat.You

Derek Ornee

A few comments, if I may, rt_hire_me (and I assure you, I hold no Disney stock):

"What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk?": I think it's not reasonable to expect major studios to take huge risks to maybe produce some high quality theater along with some not-so-good. Why would they want to take a risk when they can produce a sure thing? Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they did, but they would much rather make a crappy (which I don't think it will be) but well-known theatrical adaptation of a hit movie that will make them tons of money than take a chance on making something that might be ten times as good but doesn't make as much money. That got a little confusing, sorry. Bottom-line: studios want as much money as they can get.

"They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre": Of course that's what they think. And I think that the teeming, moronic masses prove them right. Most people are stupid.

So, to re-cap: studios are greedy and people are stupid.

Dec 31 - 12:37 AM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

Oh and homeimp and wilvaughn70, sorry to step on your posts. I agree with both of you wholeheartedly.

Dec 28 - 09:21 PM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

My complaint:
This is lazy. This is not a triumph of creative spirit. It is a victory for bean counters. What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk? How about a stage adaptation of an animated movie with fantastic songs already made that we know everyone will like, because hey, they liked it the first time. We don't have to invest in a new libretto and we don't have to pay anyone for new songs, other than stuff to fill the inbetweens.
They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre. 'Drowsy Chaperone? Avenue Q? Spamelot? Into the Woods? Wicked? Never heard of them. But wait - what's this... Little Mermaid. Oh joy, this is going to be a hoot!'

"It is something like saying you should never meet up with old friends wearing new clothes, but rather look for new friends all the time. Or worse, once you've got to know the old friends sufficiently, trade them in on new friends."

I like my old friends, but they tell the same stories. They've told the same stories so many times they can't even keep track of who they've told them to. Old stories don't require effort. They've elicited laughter and joy in the past, and they'll deliver again. But you don't want to tell new stories because, well, you have to think hard (energy) and what if nobody likes it (risk)?
You know who made good musical theatre? Scrubs. It's on Youtube, a song about Poo. That's right Mouseketeers, Poo, not Pooh. It's sparkly and original and it makes theatre lovers cry, because while it still uses the old vaudeville conventions, it's new. Somebody who loved musical theatre invested their mind and soul into a sparkly, original never-before-seen or heard brilliant musical production about using fecal samples to detect disease.
So, here's my suggestion, because I can see through your aliases you Disney majority shareholders, and I appreciate that you're listening: find out who made that song for Scrubs. Hire that individual. Ask them what other creative ideas lie in their highly creative minds. Get it out of them, they want to tell you. They've been holding it in all this long strike. And voila, maybe you'll have a beautiful new production. You never know.

"worry more about the fact that there is better television than theater releases"

You're right, BM. It just goes to show, when you wish upon a star, like Disney, somebody like the Scrubs writers with more vitality and energy is going to come along and kick your lazy asterisk.

Dec 28 - 10:04 PM

Eat.Before.We.Eat.You

Derek Ornee

A few comments, if I may, rt_hire_me (and I assure you, I hold no Disney stock):

"What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk?": I think it's not reasonable to expect major studios to take huge risks to maybe produce some high quality theater along with some not-so-good. Why would they want to take a risk when they can produce a sure thing? Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they did, but they would much rather make a crappy (which I don't think it will be) but well-known theatrical adaptation of a hit movie that will make them tons of money than take a chance on making something that might be ten times as good but doesn't make as much money. That got a little confusing, sorry. Bottom-line: studios want as much money as they can get.

"They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre": Of course that's what they think. And I think that the teeming, moronic masses prove them right. Most people are stupid.

So, to re-cap: studios are greedy and people are stupid.

Dec 31 - 12:37 AM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

Thanks for clarifying but I'm still going to disagree.

"Drowsy Chaperone? Avenue Q? Spamelot? Into the Woods? Wicked? Never heard of them."

You're really saying that these are forgotten, obscure plays? Seriously? Avenue Q plays EVERYWHERE, Spamelot has a permanent show in Vegas, Into the Woods is performed in theatres nation-wide AND another little Sondheim musical just got the Hollywood treatment (to fantastic effect, I might add). Oh goodness, and Wicked...well, first of all, I'm not sure you know that Wicked is produced by Universal...that's right, a large Hollywood studio other than Disney is producing plays. And Wicked is an adaptation! It's wonderful, for sure, and it deserves its place on Broadway and its permanent home in the historic Pantages Theatre in L.A. Furthermore, Universal is turning it into a movie once the ticket sales decline for the stage productions (basically the same thing that happened to Phantom but let's hope Wicked is better on film than that piece of crap).

The point is, these shows aren't forgotten, they're immortalized! Theatre tickets range from fifty to a hundred dollars on up for these shows and they're all SOLD OUT! Disney, on the other hand, has only adapted six of their films for the stage and all of them are Tony award winners (a couple for Best Musical). This isn't because the stories are old and familiar or because Disney is part of some mind-control conspiracy, it's simply because they were superior shows. Disney has tried, twice, to bring something new to the stage and were met with mediocre success. Their first original production, Aida, was excellent (and adaptation, sure, but what a cool concept) and people just didn't know what to do with it (however, the show I went to was indeed sold out). Their second original stage production is High School Musical. Yes, that stage happened to be the Disney Channel but everything about the movie smacks of stage (so much so that they brought it to the live stage).

"So, here's my suggestion, because I can see through your aliases you Disney majority shareholders, and I appreciate that you're listening: find out who made that song for Scrubs. Hire that individual. Ask them what other creative ideas lie in their highly creative minds. Get it out of them, they want to tell you."

I don't even know how to respond to this.

"They've been holding it in all this long strike."

Yeah, I was wondering when you were going to get around to this. The Hollywood writer's strike has NOTHING to do with bringing The Little Mermaid to the stage. If they bring Scrubs or Lost or Heroes to the stage because they can't end the strike, we can revisit this. Until then, let's stay focused.

"Somebody who loved musical theatre invested their mind and soul into a sparkly, original never-before-seen or heard brilliant musical production about using fecal samples to detect disease."

And it was on TV...not even on stage. Again, seems a little unimportant here.

"Old stories don't require effort."

Tell Julie Taymor this when she staged The Lion King. I'm sure she'd disagree. If a story is "old" we have to figure out a new way to tell it. Hell, The Lion King is nothing more or less than a retelling of Hamlet and The Little Mermaid is nothing but a retelling of a Hans Christian Anderson story he heard when he was a kid. It is human nature to retell the same stories over and again.

And as for your complaint that they don't have to write new songs: Did you read the article? They are writing TEN new songs for the show in addition to songs we know and love. I'm excited for the musicians, the singers, the set designers, etc. that get to work because this show is being produced. I'm also excited that such a high profile show is going to pave the way for the next generation of Avenue Q's, Wickeds, and Spamelots. If you're such a theatre lover, why don't you applaud Disney for putting people in the seats because I promise you that when teens and young adults get to see something like The Little Mermaid on stage, they'll be more likely to look at what else is out there. Otherwise, they're just drop their ten buck at the movies and watch whatever droll piece of waste is playing that weekend.

Sounds like you have an agenda here and you're definitely a little whiny. My best advice: If you don't like it, write the next RENT or Phantom, etc. Write something original we can't ignore. If you can do it, invite me to the premier and I'll personally shake your hand. Until that happens, be thankful large studios are spending their money on Broadway instead of ignoring that medium.

Dec 30 - 08:51 PM

Eat.Before.We.Eat.You

Derek Ornee

A few comments, if I may, rt_hire_me (and I assure you, I hold no Disney stock):

"What's the next thing that will make us a jillion dollars and require no risk?": I think it's not reasonable to expect major studios to take huge risks to maybe produce some high quality theater along with some not-so-good. Why would they want to take a risk when they can produce a sure thing? Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they did, but they would much rather make a crappy (which I don't think it will be) but well-known theatrical adaptation of a hit movie that will make them tons of money than take a chance on making something that might be ten times as good but doesn't make as much money. That got a little confusing, sorry. Bottom-line: studios want as much money as they can get.

"They think we're stupid. They think we can't arrive on Broadway and discern what makes quality theatre": Of course that's what they think. And I think that the teeming, moronic masses prove them right. Most people are stupid.

So, to re-cap: studios are greedy and people are stupid.

Dec 31 - 12:37 AM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

Shalalala my oh my, BM. You are clearly one informed tuna. So I'm going to digitally remaster my response and release it, naturally, for a limitted time only.
When my colleague approached me in the offseason and said he wanted to do Seussical or Beauty and Beast, something to bring in more kids, I instantly became Seuss' biggest fan. I like the songs in BB, but the thought of spending all that time on an adaption of an animated feature just did not sit well. What can't you do in animation? What kinds of compromises do you have to make to adapt a medium that is visually limitless? I recon this is a costume and set designer's wildest dream, but my response was 'ugh'. These shows take the better part of four months, there are a ton of shows I haven't done (A Little Night Music, Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Applause) and he wants to put on an animated Disney adaptation? NO-O-O!
"If you don't like it, write the next RENT or Phantom, etc. Write something original we can't ignore."
Holy catfish, Mobius, lower your Trident. A professional writer I am not, but I like to think I appreciate people who are. I enjoy championing the stage productions I love, as do you.
Back to the issue: is adapting Little Mermaid for stage a good idea?
No, you're right Eater, I can't blame Disney for betting on a sure thing. And it's not really a sure thing, is it, when you consider the millions that go into preparing a juggernaught like this, there is risk. And truth is, I want to see Disney win. And as long as I'm making concessions, there are a slew of musicals we never hear of because the audience just isn't there or they just weren't worth all the production dollars, so risk can be very very bad. I can't imagine wasting $500 let alone $500,000.
BUT - I don't want to see this musical, not when there are so many "certifiably fresh" pieces out there I haven't seen. Imagine a family of modest means with only one opportunity to see a show. Imagine that show was Buzz Lightyear On Ice. Sorry guys, that idea makes me more than a little whiny.
So make Little Mermaid. Win all the Tony's, Toucan Sams and Frankenberrys the academy has to offer (Jeez, wouldn't you think their collection's complete?). But if you only get one chance to get to New York or London, and a Disney adaption is all you see, then I hope the giant Ursula spins off her tentacles and crushes your poor unfortunate soul.

Dec 31 - 09:39 AM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

OK, trident lowered.

Ironically, Little Mermaid is one of my least favorite Disney movies so I don't want it assumed that I'm championing the adaptation based on preference for the source material. I actually saw a ballet based on a blend of Disney's version of the chick's aquatic escapades and the original Anderson telling. The ballet was fantastic and the music was wonderful but it lacked the one thing Disney can provide and that's money. The background was blue and there were some aquatic-looking set pieces. That's about as far as they went for set design and, though I LOVE minimalist theater, it hurt the show in this case.

You mention Disney on Ice...yeah, I've pretty much forced my mind to ignore that even exists. I've seen it and I don't know that I'm a better person for it.

Good choice with Seussical. That happens to be in my top five (if not top three) favorite plays. There's a great example of what you can do when you adapt source material and, instead of being a slave to the original, take risks and push the limits of what is possible. However, and I assure you this is meant with no venom, you are still talking about something that has actually been animated before so your argument that Beauty and the Beast is less preferable ONLY because it's an adaptation of an animated film falls a little short. However, between the two, Seussical is a LOT more fun to produce and perform, I'm sure, as well as it is to watch.

I AM a writer and you would think I'd be annoyed that Disney can't seem to come up with anything VERY original anymore. But then, that's not what they're known for. They adapt, they reinterpret, and they profit from it. Walt Disney was all about pushing envelopes in entertainment and imagination. Though I think he would be terribly upset to see the state of animated features right now and the appalling state of animation on television (some notable exceptions don't salvage my Saturday mornings), I think he'd be intrigued by the idea of brining animation to literal life. Yes, you're right, what CAN'T you do in animation? That's the heart of a challenge to bringing The Little Mermaid to the Broadway stage.

Dec 31 - 11:29 AM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

"I AM a writer"
AHA! I knew it!
Sorry about the scattered logic above. I'm like the Jehovah's Witness of stage criticism polemics: corner me and I'll change the subject.
Some of the pain of watching any adaptation, book to film or film to stage, is feeling left out of the creative process. You invest yourself in the source material, and when you watch somebody else's modifications, it can feel like sacrelidge. Honestly, I feel a reverance for some of these creations. I read Children of Men before I saw it, and the way they modified the back-story so that the protagonist did not accidentally run over his own daughter just changed everything. I was stupefied why they would alter such a critical element. I watched I Am Legend without reading the book, loved it, and can only sympathize with those whose misfortune was to read the apparently superior original narrative. Now while the tone of Little M is much lighter than these examples, again, I can't help but wonder what is going to happen to my emotional investment in the feature that brought Uncle Walt back from the dead.
Anyways, thanks for my brain work harder this Christmas.

Jan 1 - 01:20 PM

BlueMobius

D.S. Levy

Happy New Year everyone!

If they adapt TLM like they did The Lion King, I honestly think you have little to worry about them butchering the vision or purity of the original. Honestly, Lion King was almost a slave to the film and I HOPE TLM strives to reinterpret what Disney put on screen. The addition of nearly a dozen new songs is intriguing and since I personally love Alan Menken's work not a little bit exciting.

We shall see.

Jan 1 - 03:11 PM

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