The Hollywood Bowl kicked off its summer season with three magical nights celebrating the success of one of Disney’s most classic animated films, The Little Mermaid. Originally planned for just two nights, The Little Mermaid Live in Concert sold out so quickly that an additional night was quickly added. I was in attendance for the second performance on June 4th, which featured the same celebrity performers as opening night, plus a surprise guest.
The winding path to the outdoor theater featured multiple photo opportunities, sponsored by Walt Disney Records, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Plenty of fans attended the show in costume and judges were on hand for a costume contest. A limited amount of merchandise exclusive to the event was available, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, a program and a tumbler, in addition the the film’s soundtrack on CD and vinyl.
At 7:50, Darren Criss took the stage as host for the evening’s performances. First he introduced surprise special guests Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of The Little Mermaid, so they could receive a round of applause. Then the three of them welcomed Alan Menken to the stage as the opening act. Sitting at a piano, Menken played a medley of his hits, starting with “Little Shop of Horrors” and venturing into his Disney catalogue, more or less in chronological order. Audience members gasped in delight as he pulled out classic after classic from Newsies, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, Tangled and Galavant before finishing the set with a few melodies from The Little Mermaid.
For a small preview of the way Menken holds an audience, here’s a short video of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast.
As Menken completed his set, many audience members applauded him with a standing ovation. And as the orchestra began to take their seats, he explained that many of the talented musicians performing that night have been featured in his film score recordings, including a few who performed on The Little Mermaid‘s soundtrack. The conductor channeled Sebastian with a red sports coat and the men from the choir took to the stage as the film began with “Fathoms Below.” The orchestra continued to play behind the film, with dialogue and sound effects in tact. As the next song approached, “Daughters of Triton,” the female members of the chorus performed.
One of the celebrity performers advertised for the first two performances was Sara Bareilles, famous for such pop hits as “Love Song” and “Brave.” Assuming the role of Ariel for the evening, she took the stage in a flowing green dress with red hair extensions to pay homage to Ariel’s color scheme. She held the audience in her hands as she performed “Part of Your World” and returned shortly after for the reprise.
The ticket promised that there would be fireworks and a few of them took to the sky during the scene where Ariel sees Prince Eric for the first time. As the crew set off fireworks over the ocean in the film, fireworks filled the sky above The Hollywood Bowl. Fun fact, the musical jig that plays during this moment of the film is also called “Fireworks.”
In Alan Menken’s introduction, he promised that four songs from the Broadway show would be inserted into the evening’s program. In the show, Ariel’s sisters and flounder notice that Ariel has been acting funny and come to the conclusion that she must be in love with somebody. The female chorus members returned to the stage, along with Joshua Colley from Broadway’s Hamilton in the role of Flounder, to perform “She’s In Love.”
As the film progressed closer to “Under the Sea,” the audience’s energy became tantalizing. That’s because one of the biggest draws of the event was the chance to see Tituss Burgess, who originated the role of Sebastian on Broadway, fill those red shoes again for this performance. Burgess’ star has risen considerably thanks to his role on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, where he plays out-of-work flamboyant actor Titus Andromedon. The audience went wild when he performed the catchy calypso rhythm with the mens choir offering backup.
To help you understand why Burgess is such an incomparable performer, here is the last chorus of “Under the Sea.” Needless to say, he stopped the show with a standing ovation.
Another veteran of the Broadway show participating in the evening’s performance was Norm Lewis, who originated the role of King Triton. Right before King Triton destroys Ariel’s Grotto, he performed “The World Above (Reprise).”
The audience giggled with glee as Rebel Wilson from the Pitch Perfect films graced the stage with a giant Ursula wig and a black gown with purple crystal accents towards the hem. She preened herself as the song began, just like Ursula does in the film.
Her performance was campy and she had a ton of fun with it. The applause mid-way through the song was so loud that the orchestra had to delay the incantation piece.
Sara Bareilles returned to the stage to sing Ariel’s part of the villainess’ song.
After “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the performers took a ten-minute intermission. This is the same spot in the story that the Broadway show also took its break. To find out what happened when they returned, click to the next page. You won’t want to miss the special surprise guest!
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.