Forget your troubles and escape to a magical undersea world where life truly is the bubbles; this month, DPAC hosts an adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Originally written for Broadway in 2007, the show failed to wow critics when it opened the next year at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, and it had a relatively short run. Glenn Casale, who directed an acclaimed 2004 production of Beauty and the Beast, came onboard to reinvigorate the lackluster musical.
Casale tweaked aspects of the script to make it more coherent, changed the score, reimagined the costumes and set design, and suspended actors playing sea creatures from harnesses tethered to wires to simulate swimming, ditching the roller skates they used in the original version.
“All that helps make it a big, fantastical adventure,” says Diana Huey, who 5th Avenue Theatre cast as Ariel last year, and who currently stars as the mermaid in Broadway Across America’s tour with the Kansas City Star Light and Pittsburgh CLO Theatre, through November. “I loved, loved, loved the Disney movie, so it is really exciting to get to do this. It’s a dream. The 6 year-old in me was very excited.”
Huey, who bested around 50 other would-be mermaids in auditions, has earned rave reviews for her singing and her spirited interpretation of Ariel. The musical includes all the best-known songs from the Disney movie, plus several new songs from composer Alan Menken, who, with Howard Ashman, wrote the film’s original score.
When she was cast, however, Huey, who is Japanese American, faced backlash from people who insisted that Ariel needed to be white. Huey says hearing that criticism, based not on her performance as an actor but on what she looked like, stung. Ariel is a mythical mermaid princess, after all, not a character with a specific cultural background.
Because of that experience, Huey says, she is speaking out on diversity in casting.
“It’s great to have kids see a diversely cast show and have that be the norm for them,” Huey says. “The negative feedback I got has come from adults. Kids are not necessarily seeing someone who ‘doesn’t look like Ariel playing Ariel.’ It’s cool and uplifting, and I hope it helps instill in them being able to see things with an open mind, and when they’re adults, they won’t even be having those conversations.”