I was asked to cover this charity concert; the headliners are a Disney cover-band, and one of the opening acts is Alan Menken’s daughter. That can pique a Disney-loving New Yorker’s interest, but, I was cautiously enthusiastic. Fortunately, I had wildly underestimated how incredible this night would be!
The event was held at The Studio at Webster Hall, and proceeds from ticket sales went to Musicians on Call, a charity that brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. The show opened with Anna Rose, Alan Menken’s electric-guitar-wielding daughter, playing tracks from her new album, “Behold a Pale Horse”. The Harmonica Lewinskies, a rock/blues/folk band, followed, warming up the crowd for the headliners. The Little Mermen are a Disney cover band, recently formed, and, hopefully, at the start of a magical journey! Alexis Babini, the male lead vocalist, has an established career, with an album, “The Pioneer Spirit” that has made it onto iTunes Top 100.
Doors were at 7pm, and the show started at 7:30. Always early, I walked in and spotted Alan Menken and Anna immediately. They chatted with fans and friends while Anna Rose set up her merchandise table. Seeing a chance to introduce myself, I approached Anna Rose. A petite and lovely blonde, she was immediately warm and welcoming. When she heard that I was covering the show for the Laughing Place, serving the Disney community, she graciously offered to introduce me to her father. Mr. Menken was equally charming and generous with his time, and he and Anna Rose posed for a picture.
The venue was jam-packed by the time The Little Mermen began their stage set-up and mic check. The speakers blared classic Disney music, and my heart swelled, watching hundreds of 20-30 somethings singing along. At this point, Anna Rose and Alan Menken were in the back corner of the venue, tucked behind Anna Rose’s merch table, ready to take in The Little Mermen’s set, which was largely composed of Mr. Menken’s songs.
The Little Mermen, with lead vocalists Alexis Babini and Nicole Tureski, took the stage to the “When You Wish Upon a Star” score used in Disney’s opening logo. The crowd went wild, and the fun began!
The Little Mermen did a fantastic job with the arrangements of the songs. The instrumentals were familiar, but original. The vocals were unchanged, allowing the audience to sing along. I really appreciated that they were able to make the music their own, yet not ostracize the audience from their beloved childhood memories. They opened with an incredible rendition of “Circle of Life”, Nicole dressed in a black and white striped tee with Minnie Mouse headband, and Alexis in a Mickey tee, under an unzipped hoodie. The set included costume changes that were simple and perfectly thought out. A red wig and blue tank was donned by Nicole, channeling Ariel for “Part of Your World”. Buzz Lightyear wings and a Woody hat for “You’ve Got a Friend”. Bubbles filled the venue for “Under the Sea”. Other songs on the set list included “I Wanna Be Like You”, “Just Can’t Wait to be King”, “Let It Go”, “You’ll Be In My Heart”.
It was impossible not to check in on Alan Menken, and watch his reaction to the show. The venue was filled with people who grew up with his music, and here we were – letting down our tough New Yorker facades, singing at the top of our lungs, cheering at the start of each new, familiar song.
Halfway through the show, my neighbor and I introduced ourselves. It turned out that he was Nicole’s brother! I learned that Nicole is definitely a Disney fan – and a Cast Member alum! She was a close friend of Chip and Dale. This was one of their first shows as The Little Mermen, and they were performing for Alan Menken!
This show left me wanting more, more, more. As I spoke with the manager of the venue, he told me that Webster Hall Studio hadn’t been that packed in a very long time. It got me thinking, this wasn’t even an event on the Disney community radar. It was a well designed and well attended show, put on to benefit Musicians On Call. The Little Mermen have a lot of options to explore, with a large Disney fan base to tap into – and I hope that they do.