A massive and influential critical and commercial hit whose appeal has transcended generations, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, released in 1989, marked the start of an era known as the Disney Renaissance - a decade during which Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making animated musicals based on well-known stories, all of which became global hits. A stage musical, featuring music by Alan Menken and extra songs by Menken and Glenn Slater in addition to the original material by Menken and the late Howard Ashman (including the Grammy and Oscar-winning “Under the Sea”), ran on Broadway in the late 2000s and has been performed all over the world.
Launched by brother and sister producing team Jeff and Beth Cason, Soundstage Live! is a South
Bay-based company that creates socially interactive stage presentations by bringing cutting edge
technology and storytelling together to put their audiences in the middle of the action. Their
dynamic, energetic, crazy-colorful presentation of “The Little Mermaid” in mid-March at the El
Segundo Performing Arts Center offered a dazzling combination of splendid Broadway-worthy
local performers, projected animates on the walls surrounding the stage and the front of the large
auditorium, and ongoing interactivity between everyone’s mobile devices and the live show.
The set design was lush and ornate, the costumes vibrant and the music was lively and spirited -
uplifting and show-stopping on both original Mermaid classics like “Part of Your World” and on
newer Broadway compositions like “If Only,” and quirky and fun on Sebastian’s classics “Under
the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Standout performers included Chassey Bennett as Ariel, Debbie
Prusman as her nemesis Ursula, Andrew Metzger as Chef Louis, Adam Lendermon as Scuttle,
John Wells as Flounder and Kameron Richardson as Sebastian. The thought process must have
been, when your intended audience is half grade school kids whose parents may just be first
generation Little Mermaid fans, it’s best to provide non-stop action and interaction to keep
everyone engaged. Making every moment compelling, and effortlessly propelling the visuals and
narrative forward, director Karl Warden made sure that would be the case.
But the quick moving story and musical action onstage wasn’t the only element vying for our
attention. Sound Stage Live! billed this format as one that encourages patrons to pull their cell
phones out rather than put them away. A phone image projected on the side of the stage counted
down every time the app was about to light up with beautiful, trippy, sometimes psychedelic
graphics of everything from musical instrument playing fish to bubbles with sound, eyes in the
dark, confetti and the contract Ariel signed to trade her voice for her humanity. It was even used
as a “trident zapper” to take away Ursula’s power, thus giving the audience a moment of control
over the story itself. Or as Beth Cason said, “Your phone will let you see and hear the fish under
the sea, join the musical chorus that get Ariel and Eric to fall in love, and even help Ariel defeat
Ursula with the power of the trident.” Rather than a distraction, the ongoing app activity kept
everyone excited in anticipation of what may pop up next. The only challenge was making sure
not to miss the magic onstage.
Sound Stage Live! made an evening of it, allowing for photos in the lobby on makeshift
rowboat and using Mermaid centric handheld props; hanging on the red carpet with event host,
singer, actor and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall; and purchasing themed food and drink items.
Before the performance, Hall performed with dancers, sang a medley of 90s hits and hosted a lip-
synch competition with costumes (won by a young man wearing an Ursula costume). If the goal
was to keep everyone entertained from start to finish, the creators achieved it beautifully.
Hopefully, they will make this presentation more than just a one-time weekend-long event – and
they will stage other imaginative productions based on films and stories we love, Disney owned
or not, in the future.