“Up where they walk, up where they run / Up where they stay all day in the sun / Wanderin’ free – wish I could be / Part of that world.”
Who hasn’t heard or at some point sang along to these powerful lyrics? When Disney released the animated feature film The Little Mermaid, not only did the world of animation change, but also the world of so many children and even adults.
The phenomenon hasn’t waned. Just look around at Halloween or at Disney theme parks and see how many little girls are dressed as Ariel. There’s something about her and her story that resonates with us on conscious and subconscious levels.
As one of those little girls who sang along with Ariel, Jessica Grové, who is playing Ariel at the Fox Theatre in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, being in the musical is a thrilling opportunity.
“Little girls come dressed as Ariel,” she comments. “Knowing that it is their first theatrical experience, to be a part of that is extremely rewarding.”
For her, and many others who grew up on the movie, the message of the movie is important for not just little girls and little boys but adults too. Grové explains, “Ariel feels that she is not born in the right skin, and so many can relate to that.”
Whether a child longing for something more, a little girl who likes to do “boy things” or a young man who feels more like a young woman, there’s a sense of empowerment and encouragement that the story gives. She continues, “Ariel feels like she’s human. It is symbolic on different levels.”
While many can relate to wanting to a part of a world they are not in, there is a stronger message in the musical that is timely and significant. “There’s a whole new movement in the arts for girl power,” Grové says.
You don’t have to look very far even in Disney’s canon to see this idea. Frozen has taken the world by storm, and in this movie the story of the two heroines is central, but the love story is secondary. There isn’t a prince who comes to save the day, but Elsa must find the power in herself to save her sister.
Grové points out that the stage version of The Little Mermaid’s ending has been changed to have a similar theme. “It is not Prince Eric to the rescue,” she says. Instead Ariel finds the strength in herself to defeat Ursula. It is that strength that can empower little girls to be who they want to be and not let society dictate their futures.
For those familiar with the Broadway show, there are also changes to the musical itself that will be noticeable. According to Grové, the musical has evolved into a different show. She states that the creative team, along with Disney, have worked tirelessly to make a tighter, more cohesive production that will connect with audiences better than the Broadway version did.
“It is quite different; I would say new and improved,” she states. The revamped musical, which also played at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and Houston’s Theater Under the Stars, features a reworked book, new songs and a new sequence for the songs.
In addition to revising the script, the staging itself has changed. Grové comments that the “reimagined” staging has one key difference from the Broadway version – “no heelies.” Instead, the characters, with the exception of the eels, use flying effects to simulate swimming.
For her, flying in a show is nothing new, having played Dorothy in the national tour of The Wizard of Oz. But, for this show, the “flying” sequences have an unusual element to them. “Getting used to singing without running out of breath while in the harness took practice getting used to,” she comments. “Now, it’s almost second nature.”
Go “Under the Sea” with Disney’s The Little Mermaid when it takes the stage at the Fox Theatre on July 8 through July 13, 2014 as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta season. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.broadwayinatlanta.com/ Tickets are also available at the Fox Theatre box office or by phone at 855-285-8499.
By: Kenny Norton