The Little Mermaid Special That's Not Airing Tonight

Earlier this year, ABC made an announcement that they would be airing a special tonight featuring live performances of Disney's The Little Mermaid called The Little Mermaid Live! The special was presumably to follow in the footsteps of a tradition NBC reinstated with Peter Pan LIVE! in 2014 in which they would air a live performance of a well-known musical once a year. Appropriately enough, this tradition started with Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella in 1957 starring Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Julie just celebrated her 82nd birthday two days ago. FOX tried their hand at copying this tradition last year with Grease Live! to underwhelming success. I guess as the parent company of Disney, which is known for their musicals, ABC felt obligated to get the ball rolling on their own version of this.

Unfortunately, someone must have jumped the gun with The Little Mermaid Live! because only a few short months after its commencement, they announced that the project was pulled. The official statement was “We are postponing the Little Mermaid Live special. We love the idea of doing a live musical and want to make it wonderful. The project is so unique that we are making best efforts to do it next year and want to give it all the attention it deserves,” citing budget issues as the cause of the delay. Since there's no word on a new date, the project is as good as canceled until further notice.

Though few people were affected by this cancellation, hardcore "Little Mermaid" fans like me had already marked their calendar so we may be feeling a mermaid-sized hole in our hearts today as a result. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to attend The Little Mermaid in Concert 25th anniversary screening at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. Like the special that was supposed to air tonight, the show was a hybrid of animation and live singers. Perhaps it was meant to test the waters to see if it would work as a TV special. See what I did there? If you were not able to attend the event, let me tell you about the experience I had last summer to make up for the lack of live performances tonight.

The Little Mermaid in Concert was the first show I had ever seen at the Hollywood Bowl. The event was heavily publicized, and Disney fans could not have been more excited. The concert ran for three performances. The first two nights starred Sara Bareilles as Ariel and the third starred Jodi Benson reprising her role as Ariel in one of my favorite princess voices. I attended the first and third nights, and I'm glad I did. There was so much to do and see outside of the stadium that I would have missed some great photo ops if I didn't go back a second time. They had merchandise booths, a costume contest, and photo backgrounds featuring different characters from the movie posted all over the bowl. There was even a giant bubble machine around the costume contest stage! It was intense.

The excitement in the air was contagious for the star-studded cast. Two of the original actors from The Little Mermaid play on Broadway reprised their roles for the concert, including Tituss Burgess as Sebastian and Norm Lewis as King Triton. The animated movie was played in full on multiple screens in throughout the audience. Whenever there was a song, an announcement was made, and a celebrity would come out to perform it. It included some songs that were written for the Broadway play that were not in the movie. Since there was no movie footage to display for those scenes, we were instead treated to a gorgeous slideshow of pencil sketches and concept art for the film. I love princess art, so this was truly a feast for my eyes. The Broadway songs they added were "The World Above," sung by King Triton, "She's in Love," sung by Ariel's brightly colored sisters and an adorable young Flounder, and "If Only," a quartet sung by Ariel, Prince Eric, King Triton, and Sebastian.

Sara Bareilles, who died her tips bright red in honor of her role, was acceptable as Ariel but Jodi Benson was the one who truly stole the show. She came out as a surprise guest the first two nights to do an encore performance "Part of Your World," and the third night, when she had already performed as Ariel, she did her encore to the song "Disneyland" from Smile the Musical. The performance of "Disneyland" was truly touching because it was synced a slideshow of old photos of Walt Disney and the construction of the Disneyland theme park. She also did a surprise costume change into another stunning gown before coming back out to perform. I also really enjoyed hearing her sing "If Only" from the Broadway play because it was the first time I got to hear it in voice of the original Ariel.

The first night of the concert included a one-man pre-show featuring the legendary Alan Menken, who performed a medley of his classic Disney songs on piano. It wasn't my first time seeing him in concert, but it was always a pleasure. The other two nights kicked off with performances by Susan Egan and Brad Kane, two enormous Disney talents. Susan regaled fans with stories of originating the role of Belle on Broadway and convincing Disney that she was badass enough to also do the voice of Megara in Hercules. Brad performed "Proud of Your Boy," one of the most popular deleted songs from Aladdin, and did a duet of "A Whole New World" with Susan for their finale. Other highlights included a gorgeous intermission by a violinist in a fabulous Ariel costume who played music from the film's score and a fireworks show synced up to the wedding and the end credits.

There are few experiences that allow people to fully immerse themselves in their passions. For fans of The Little Mermaid, this concert was one of them. I was lucky enough to live locally so that I could attend twice. It would have been amazing to see something similar to this broadcast on national television tonight so that I could share this experience with the rest of the world, but in the mean time I still have these great memories. Who knows? Maybe the project will get revived one day in the future.


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