It’s the Hans Christian Andersen story that Walt Disney
almost put into production back in the 1940s (as part of a live action /
animated co-production with Samuel Goldwyn).
This is one of Kay Nielsen's Little Mermaid concept paintings for that aborted
Hans Christian Andersen feature from the 1940s Copyright Disney. All Rights
It’s also the story that helped launch the second golden age
of Disney animation. More importantly, it convinced Mouse House execs that there
were millions to be made off of the sales of Disney Princess merchandise.
The vocal cast
for the “Little Mermaid” animated feature smiles for the camera. Copyright
Disney. All Rights Reserved
And now the Little Mermaid has made her way to Broadway.
Journeying from the deep blue sea to the Great White Way.
Copyright Disney. All
Which – appropriately enough – is the subtitle of Michael
Lassell’s latest book, “The Little Mermaid: From the Deep Blue Sea to the Great White Way” (Disney Editions, May 2009). Which does a superb job of explaining
how this Academy Award-winning animated feature was translated to the stage.
Of course, given that this is the fifth making-of book
Lassell has written about Disney Theatrical productions, the Mouse trusts
Michael implicitly at this point. Which is why they granted him almost
unlimited access when it came to the stage version of “The Little Mermaid.”
“I went to the very first rehearsal of this show back in
2005,” Lassell recalled. “My technique – when I’m working on a book like this –
is that I’m a fly on the wall. I sit, I watch and – during breaks – I grab
This is how Michael was able to be on hand when the photo below was taken. As the production team
was trying to get a handle on Ariel’s tail. Deciding how
much was too much, if you catch my drift.
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright
Disney. All Rights Reserved
“That’s the real challenge with a show like this,” Lassell
continued. “You have to deliver on audience expectations. They’re going to want
to see certain things that they remember from the movie. While at the same
time, you have to interpret & expand that material so that this story then
works for the stage.”
That’s why Michael feels that Disney Theatrical is lucky to
have Thomas Schumacher as its president. Having spent the early part of his
career working at the Mark Taper Forum in LA, Schumacher isn’t afraid of
experimental theater. His background is
more avant-garde than mainstream. Which is why Thomas has no problem with
handing some of Disney’s best known tales off to visionary directors like Julie
Taymor and Francesca Zambello to interpret for the stage.
Mind you, Schumacher’s equally fearless when it comes to
these Disney Theatrical making-of books.
“Tom encourages me to write what I want,” Lassell said.
“Over the past four books, he has asked
me to remove almost nothing. Tom is a grown-up. He just wants a book that
honestly chronicles how the show came together.”
(L to R) Stephen Mears teaches Derrick Baskin, Sherie Rene Scottand Tyler Maynard some new steps. Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright Disney. All Rights
Which means sometimes capturing the sillier aspects of show
business. Like how Sherie Rene Scott used to amuse herself between the matinee
& evening performances of “The Little Mermaid.” Which was to go out on the
balcony of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (while still wearing her Ursula wig &
make-up) and sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” to the tourists scurrying by below on
Given that Sherie had previously been interviewed by Michael
for “Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida: The Making of the Broadway Musical
Scott trusted Lassell too. Which is why this Broadway vet was comfortable
enough with the “Little Mermaid” author to reveal that Disney Theatrical
Productions is open to the idea of the role of Ursula the Sea Witch someday
being played by a man.
“Of course, that ties back to the original ‘Little Mermaid’
movie, where much of the inspiration for Ursula was drawn from Divine,” Michael
explained.”And that was because Howard Ashman was a big fan of John Waters’
movies. Which – given that they were both Baltimore boys – wasn’t really a
That’s what’s really great about “The Little Mermaid: From
the Deep Blue Sea to the Great White Way.” Lassell gives you a front row seat
as this show struggles to its feet. And thanks to the hundreds of photographs that you’ll find in
this 176-page hardcover, you can watch the cast move from working with
bare-bones sets in the rehearsal hall …
Sierra Boggess in her practice grotto at the 42nd Street Studios Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright Disney.
All Rights Reserved
… to the beautiful, finished, polished sets & costumes
that you’ll find on Broadway today.
Sierra Boggess in the stage version of Ariel's grotto atthe Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Photo by Joan MarcusCopyright Disney.
All Rights Reserved
Mind you, it’s not all glitz & glamour at the
Lunt-Fontanne. Michael reveals that there is so little room available in the
wings of this 99-year-old theater that the sea horse costumes
(when they’re not in use, that is) have to be stored in the little bathroom next to the stage door entrance.
The stage left corridor at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, jammed full ofcostumes & props used during performances of "The Little Mermaid"Photo by Randy Meyer. Copyright Disney.
All Rights Reserved
Now – you’d think – what with having to watch “The Little
Mermaid” over & over again as he was doing the research for this new Disney
Theatrical making-of book that Lassell would have grown bored with this
particular Broadway show by now. But that isn’t really the case.
“What with attending the first rehearsal and all, I’ve
probably seen ‘The Little Mermaid’ as a whole 20 times or more now. Individual
pieces of this show, I’ve seen hundreds of times,” Michael concluded. “But in
all that time, I’ve never been bored. It’s such an entertaining show.”
And “The Little Mermaid: From the Deep Blue Sea to the Great
White Way” is an entertaining & informative book. If you’d like to learn
how exactly this acclaimed animated feature successfully transitioned from
screen to stage, then I urge you to pick up a copy of Michael Lassell’s latest
Disney Theatrical making-of book.
And speaking of "The Little Mermaid" ... Don't forget that ASIFA-Hollywood will be hosting a "Little Mermaid" 20th anniversary reunion at Woodbury University tomorrow night. And among the Disney animation veterans who are expected to take part in this panel discussion are the film's writers / directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Ruben Aquino, Duncan Majoribanks and Tina Price. This one-time-only event will be held in the Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium starting at 7 p.m. with Tom Sito serving as the panel's moderator.
20 years?? Let me find my cane...