Hollywood on a Saturday night: Where a mermaid pop star, a sea witch primarily known for a cappella, an Emmy-nominated crab, and John Stamos transported an audience of Los Angelenos into mere fish in an airy, acoustic bowl.
It should come as no surprise that such a wild cast assembled for the Hollywood Bowl’s weekend production of The Little Mermaid, a concert adaptation of the beloved 1989 Disney classic. As the film played to the accompaniment of a live orchestra, the production’s ensemble — including Sara Bareilles as Ariel, Rebel Wilson as Ursula, Darren Criss as Eric, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, John Stamos as Chef Louis, Norm Lewis as Triton, and Joshua Colley as Flounder — popped up throughout the evening for almost cabaret-style performances of the movie’s memorable music.
By now, the glorious fun of the June 3-6 production of The Little Mermaid is all over YouTube, and it’s all fine and lovely to look at the fishes. But it’s another to take a swim with them inside the bowl. Here are the five showstopping highlights EW swam away with.
Alan Menken’s pre-show medley
There’s a reason you love Disney movies, and it’s largely to do with Alan Menken, who, with the late Howard Ashman, penned the music for The Little Mermaid and virtually every* classic in Disney Animation’s Renaissance period (1989-1999). It ought to have been worth the ticket price alone to witness Menken’s opening act, a piano medley that took the audience through a chronological suite of his greatest hits: From the best-loved toons (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and Hunchback) to live-action (Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies, and Enchanted) to a sampling of his recently-axed TV entry, Galavant, Menken made a showcase of his talents as singer and songwriter. Disney fans have heard each song a thousand times over, but nothing quite matches hearing them pour effortlessly out of the man responsible for them, almost as if he were writing them all over again in the very moment.
Tituss Burgess goes under the sea
Somebody had to stand out in a sea of celebrity guests, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that the fine-voiced Burgess swam away with the crowd in his claw, reprising the role of Sebastian the crab, which he originated in the Broadway production. Reliving the same riffs and runs that characterized his Main Stem performance (which you can hear preserved on the still-durable cast album), Burgess brought down the Bowl with “Under the Sea” and sailed through “Kiss the Girl” with pizazz and an almost giddy amount of infectious fun. As he later tweeted, “I could play this role for the rest of my life.” And we hope he does. Much of Hollywood only discovered the actor from his turn on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and it was due time that Burgess got a chance to demonstrate his real musical theater chops to an arena of the town’s power players.
Rebel Wilson’s octopus act
Donning an outrageous lightning-white wig that existed somewhere between Broadway and Whitesnake, Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson slid onto the stage as Ursula and summoned the crowd’s energy like a sea witch sopping up a voice. Croaking out “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Wilson dove into the character and triumphed with her sheer vitality, just as a hypnotic character like Ursula deserves. Plus, few actresses could really get away with tucking a beloved Disney prop like the spiral shell holding Ariel’s voice into their cleavage.
Violinist Sandy Cameron earned a standing ovation for her sublime solo journey through the score’s highlights, kicking off the evening’s second act (the film split for a brief intermission right after — spoiler alert for literally nobody — Ariel gets her legs). Leaping around the stage in what can only be described as “algae chic,” Cameron demonstrated a stage virtuosity and captivating riff on the Mermaid song collection that turned even the silliest lyric into a haunting bar, elevating what could have been a traditional orchestra entr’acte to far above sea level.
“If Only” it didn’t end.
The Bowl production utilized a few songs from the Broadway production, including King Triton’s ferocious “The World Above” and the Flounder-and-the-Mersisters bop, “She’s in Love.” Still, none were more powerful than the surprisingly touching quartet, “If Only,” sung by Bareilles’ Ariel, Criss’s Prince Eric, Burgess’s Sebastian, and Lewis’s Triton. As Little Mermaid neared its end, so did an evening wherein the show frequently stopped with celebrity introductions and tongue-in-cheek moments of lighthearted levity — but it was easy to get lost in the foursome’s pure harmony of the Broadway show’s most poignant song and rediscover new elements about The Little Mermaid’s mostly sunny story. “Such big problems for such a little mermaid,” Sebastian gently opines, and suddenly, a song that never existed in the film sounded as if it had been an inextricable part of the score for decades.
So… who do we talk about casting Beauty and the Beast?