Fan service can get a bad rap. It can be cheap and shoddily done: a quick cash grab a mega-corporation pulls off on unsuspecting enthusiasts. However, fan service can also also be sublime, reminding fans why they became fans in the first place. The Little Mermaid – Live in Concert at The Hollywood Bowl is a 3-night limited engagement that has fan service written all over it. This concert could have easily veered into the bad fan service camp: Pick a beloved property, get a few D-list celebrities who can maybe hold a tune, an affordable venue, and charge loyal fans up the wazoo to attend. Fortunately for everyone involved, this performance landed squarely in the realm of the unforgettable: a true celebration of the classic Disney animated film featured performances that honored and sometimes transcended the original.
As a Disney fan, I can safely say that this is one of the best events I’ve ever attended, including the D23 Expo, panels at the Imagineering Campus, and special events at Disney World and Disneyland. So, today I’m doing something a little different and inviting you to join me as I recount the wonderful night. This post includes videos of every major performance from The Little Mermaid – Live In Concert, which I posted yesterday to the Guide2WDW YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the videos of the songs, click here to skip ahead to where they start.
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First, a little backstory on how we got here. A few months ago, my girlfriend Bethany noticed an article online about Disney putting on a Little Mermaid concert with a really stacked cast. In particular, she loves Sara Bareilles and Rebel Wilson, so the fact that both of them were going to be playing major roles made this concert irresistible. I’ve always been the “Disney Fan” of the two of us in our relationship, so her extreme interest in a Disney event came as a little bit of a shock to me. A welcome shock, for sure, so I was determined to get us two great seats for the show as a gift for our upcoming anniversary. After several failed attempts at securing tickets right when they went on sale (thanks a lot, Ticketmaster), I was able to get two seats at a bit of a premium from a reseller (thanks a lot, StubHub?).
Arriving at the Hollywood Bowl
Bethany and I took a short Uber to the Hollywood Bowl, arriving around 3 and a half hours before the show. Neither one of us had been to a show here previously, so we wanted to take our time and explore the grounds before the show. We read an article online before arriving that encouraged bringing a picnic dinner. We found a nice, shady spot near the ticket check and set up shop.
I’m glad we showed up early, because about two hours before the show, people started showing up in droves. Not that this was a bad thing: it just would have been hard to find a nice spot to set up our picnic blanket if we had shown up any later than we did. As for everyone at the Hollywood Bowl, the atmosphere was excited, yet relaxed. While the venue was definitely packed, it never felt overcrowded or stressful. While sniffing out the area, we saw many Little Mermaid fans Disney-bounding as Ariel or Ursula. Bethany excitedly pointed out the best costumes as people walked by. We also stumbled upon this Little Mermaid themed area for a VIP after-party or a birthday party for the world’s fanciest billionaire child.
After finishing our picnic, we headed inside the Bowl and made our way to our seats. After a short introduction, the opening act made his way to the stage. One thing that should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the show: the opening act was Alan Menkin. For those of you who don’t know, Alan Menkin is part of the duo that wrote the songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. He’s also responsible for music from Tangled, Mulan, Newsies, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, and many more. Basically, he wrote the soundtrack to most of our childhoods. For Disney fans in the know, he could easily command top-billing, but instead he was the opening act.
This is exactly the type of fan service that Disney got right. Instead of getting the hottest artist on Radio Disney or some Vine star to warm up the crowd, they got a bonafide Disney Legend to sing a medley of his best work. I felt myself get a little weepy as he sang “Out There” and “I Can Go The Distance.” The show was already off to a great start.
Then the orchestra took the stage, introduced as the “Hot Crustacean Band.” The conductor was even wearing a red tuxedo jacket to match Sebastian, which was a very fun touch. I really cannot overstate how great the orchestra was. Throughout the night, I had to keep reminding myself that I was listening to a live orchestra, not a pre-recorded soundtrack. The orchestra just sounded perfect. For The Little Mermaid Live In Concert, Disney Concerts decided to play the entirety of the movie on the giant screens hanging around the Hollywood Bowl stage. This version of the movie only had the pre-recorded dialogue, so the orchestra could play the soundtrack to accompany the scenes.
So, this concert started with how every Disney movie starts: A rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” and an animation of a beautiful castle. It’s a familiar sight that definitely invokes warm-fuzzy feelings for anyone who has watched more than one Disney movie. However, hearing a live orchestra and chorus perform this familiar tune just brought another level of majesty.
After the intro music, I had goosebumps all over my body. I looked over at Bethy and she had tears in her eyes. It was an overwhelming moment, both for the emotion from the music and the emotion knowing that I might no longer be the only “Disney Fan” in this relationship. The show continued, with the orchestra accompanying The Little Mermaid. It had been years since I’d seen the movie, and I was really impressed with how well the whole film held up. The animation is as charming and full of character as ever, the writing is crisp and lively, and the voice acting is incredible. There were definitely moments where I felt myself getting caught up with the movie, forgetting the venue I was watching it in.
Sara Bareillis as Ariel
After about 15 minutes, as Ariel is gazing upon her collection from the human world, the screen faded to black, and Sara Bareillis was introduced. She walked onto the stage, with a streak of red and sea-shells perched in her long hair. One thing I was reminded of while watching this show was that The Little Mermaid doesn’t have as many songs as my memory thought it did. As Ariel, Sara Bareillis only had one song to sing: “Part of Your World.” She would later briefly perform the reprise and sing during “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” but really this was her one big moment in the show.
As you can see above, she did great. Her voice is amazing and soothing, and she has an extremely relaxed demeanor on stage. She did have one slip-up during the Saturday evening performance, singing the lyric “How many wonders can one cavern hold?” as “How many wonders can one tavern hold?” As a professional, she just rolled onto the next part of the song without skipping a beat, and I was left pondering all the wonders that taverns actually do hold.
Overall, I really enjoyed Sara Bareillis as Ariel. However, she was a bit overshadowed by the next two headliners, which isn’t to say anything negative about Sara Bareillis as it is to say so much about the next two performers.
Tituss Burgess as Sebastian
I freaking love Tituss Burgess. As a fan of 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I think he’s absolutely hysterical, and I was really eagerly looking forward to his portrayal as Sebastian. My expectations were more than met: I was blown away. His rendition of Under the Sea would have torn down the roof if there was one hanging over the Hollywood Bowl. I was so impressed by how natural his portrayal of Sebastian was: it felt like he had developed the character of this wizened and crabby Jamaican crab, even with an accent that veered away from cartoonish. It came as no surprise to me to later find out that he played Sebastian for over a year on Broadway in The Little Mermaid musical. His experience with the character and his natural stage presence brought a whole new dimension to this performance, as Tituss was able to bring flairs and flourish in unexpected ways. His “Kiss The Girl” was equally impressive, with him adding in some pretty hilarious quips toward the end of the song.
Rebel Wilson as Ursula
The other standout performance of the night was Rebel Wilson as Ursula. When she first came on stage with an outrageous hairdo that would make the Sea Witch proud, I laughed. When she first opened her mouth, my brain immediately went “That’s not Pat Carroll!” It took about 10 seconds for me to get used to Rebel Wilson’s higher register. However, after that initial dissonance on my part, I really enjoyed what she brought to the character of Ursula. It was clear that she was having a blast being the villain, taking every opportunity to relish in being a baddie and creating new comedic beats. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is one of the longer numbers in the show, and I was glad that Rebel got as much stage time as possible. It ended the first act with a bang.
Darren Criss as Prince Eric
If there was one area of the show I wasn’t in love with, it was Darren Criss as Prince Eric. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was bad by any means. He acted as the show’s emcee, and did a very nice job introducing all of the acts. I also think he looks the part, another example of the casting for this show being spot on. I just don’t think his part was very interesting. He brought out his guitar and sang “Her Voice” from the Broadway musical adaptation of The Little Mermaid. I had never heard the song before, and it just paled in comparison to the classics that I was familiar with. He has a nice voice, but this part of the show had a hard time competing with all the other showstoppers.
John Stamos as Chef Louis
Did I say showstopper? John Stamos brought the ham to this fish buffet, and I’m so glad he did. There’s something just so satisfying with seeing someone who acted so cool in the 90s completely commit and act like a buffoon on stage. The only thing that wasn’t great was that there seemed to be some sort of mic trouble, and it was the hardest to hear him out of any of the performers. However, the audience was still in stitches with his conducting the orchestra bit. A highlight of the evening, for sure.
Other odds and ends
Another standout was Tony-nominated actor Norm Lewis, who played Triton. Although his part was brief, limited to just some short bits from the Broadway show, he definitely made an impression. His booming voice might have been the best out of the whole lineup of stars.
If anything is clear from this, Disney and The Hollywood Bowl know how to put on a production. For the three hour evening, the show never felt like it was sagging, moving along at a brisk pace. The 2nd act started with an incredible violin soloist performing a suite of the songs from the movie. The show also incorporated pyrotechnics in a really fantastic way, culminating in a fireworks finale over the entirety of the credits. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a denser fireworks display, with pyrotechnics being shot off for a solid 5 minutes straight. After the credits, a special guest was brought out onto the stage.
Jodi Benson – The Original Ariel
Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel (and voice of Barbie in the Toy Story movies!) took the stage, and the crowd went wild. After giving a short speech thanking the fans of The Little Mermaid, she sang the song that she recorded for the film some 30 years ago. I was really impressed with how good she sounds after all these years. This was a really special treat for fans, and a perfect way to end the night.
Like I said before, fan service can be a dodgy business, and doing a concert version of a hit movie is definitely fan service. But this was an extremely special performance, with everyone involved bringing a level of energy and passion that fit the source material. By perfectly casting high-profile stars in the lead roles and by including members of the original team, Disney Concerts created a perfect love letter to The Little Mermaid. I really hope Disney does more special concerts like this with their classic movies.
While I always enjoyed the film, The Little Mermaid was never my favorite Disney movie like Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast. However, I was enraptured for all three hours, swept away under the sea. After the finale, Bethany turned to me and told me that this may have been the best show she’s ever seen. As a Disney Fan and as a boyfriend celebrating an anniversary, I had a voice pop in my head regarding the event: “What more is you looking for?”