In almost every musical ever written, there’s a place that’s usually about the third song of the evening – sometimes it’s the second, sometimes it’s the fourth, but it’s quite early – and the leading lady usually sits down on something; sometimes it’s a tree stump in Brigadoon, sometimes it’s under the pillars of Covent Garden in My Fair Lady, or it’s a trash can in Little Shop of Horrors… but the leading lady sits down on something and sings about what she wants in life. And the audience falls in love with her and then roots for her to get it for the rest of the night. ~ Howard Ashman.
For many Disney and musical theatre fans, Howard Ashman left an imprint in theatre, film, storytelling, and song that has withstood the test of time. His brilliant voice in storytelling has changed the way, we see music, film, and theatre.
Alfred Lord Tennyson had written a poem titled The Mermaid that was included in his 1893 novel, The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. The poem below:
Who would be
A mermaid fair,
Combing her hair
Under the sea,
In a golden curl
With a comb of pearl,
On a throne?
I would be a mermaid fair;
I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;
And still as I comb’d I would sing and say, Who is it loves me? who loves not me?
I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall
Low adown, low adown,
From under my starry sea-bud crown
Low adown and around,
And I should look like a fountain of gold
With a shrill inner sound,
Over the throne
In the midst of the hall;
Till that great sea-snake under the sea
From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
And all the mermen under the sea
Would feel their immortality
Die in their hearts for the love of me.
But at night I would wander away, away,
I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks,
And lightly vault from the throne and play
With the mermen in and out of the rocks;
We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,
On the broad sea-wolds in the crimson shells,
Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.
But if any came near I would call, and shriek,
And adown the steep like a wave I would leap
From the diamond-ledges that jut from the dells;
For I would not be kiss’d by all who would list,
Of the bold merry mermen under the sea;
They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,
In the purple twilights under the sea;
But the king of them all would carry me,
Woo me, and win me, and marry me,
In the branching jaspers under the sea;
Then all the dry pied things that be
In the hueless mosses under the sea
Would curl round my silver feet silently,
All looking up for the love of me.
And if I should carol aloud, from aloft
All things that are forked, and horned, and soft
Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,
All looking down for the love of me.
On November 14th, 1989, Disney’s The Little Mermaid premiered and it was the hit that the Walt Disney Studio’s desperately needed.
In the 1980’s the Walt Disney Studios wasn’t what it was today. It was a sinking ship, on the verge of bankruptcy with tanked films such as The Black Cauldron (1985), The Great Mouse Detective (1986), and Oliver and Company (1988).
So, the Walt Disney Studio’s brought in the creative forces of Michael Eisner as the new CEO and Jeffrey Katzenburg in charge of the Animation Division. Their mission was to bring the Walt Disney Studio’s back to life!
The idea to make an animated film of The Little Mermaid was from Ron Clements, who went to a bookstore and read the classic fairy of the same name, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. He pitched the idea at Jeffrey Katazeberg’s ‘gong show’ for the screenwriters to share their idea. Initially, The Little Mermaid was rejected for being too similar to Touchstone’s Splash. But that all changed, when Jeffrey read the two page treatment (synopsis) and wanted to expand on the story.
Ron Clements teamed with John Musker to write the script, but they knew they were missing an essential element to any Disney film: Music!
So, Disney recruited Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to write the music for The Little Mermaid. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, both had a musical theatre background. They had written Little Shop of Horrors in 1982, which was a smash success!
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken started writing the music for The Little Mermaid in 1988. They wrote all the iconic music in the soundtrack and gave Disney a revitalized broadway-treatment to it’s music. Howard Ashman incorporated the “want song” for the Disney heroine, that is now a key-part of the Disney musical storytelling, conveying what the female lead wanted most in life and how the audience roots for her to get to happy ending!
The music, wasn’t Howard’s only forte when it came to storytelling. Upon Howard’s arrival to the Walt Disney Studio’s, he had a meeting with the animators about how musical theatre and the Disney film were very much alike. The animators were so energized and revitalized by Howard’s speech that they were ready to prove themselves.
It was Howard Ashman’s idea to change the Sebastian’s ethnicity from British to Pacific Islander. He collaborated with John Musker and Ron Clements on storytelling elements for The Little Mermaid, including the film’s ending.
Jodi Benson had worked with Howard on the Broadway musical, Smile in 1986. He thought that she would be perfect to voice The Little Mermaid‘s headstrong heroine, Ariel. She auditioned and got the iconic role of Ariel, a year later.
Shortly after hearing Jodi Benson sing Part of Your World, Glen Keane, went to the studio and demanded that he draw Ariel. At first, the studio was hesitant to give him the position, but after some pushing, the studio agreed.
During an early screening of The Little Mermaid, a child had spilled their popcorn during Part of Your World. Jeffrey wanted to pull the song, thinking it would be a flop, Howard famously told him, “Over my dead body!” Yet, when Glen spoke to Jeffrey about keeping the song in the film, Jeffrey listened to him and Part of Your World stayed in the film.
The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel, a adventurous, strong-headed, fiercely independent mermaid whose fascinated with the human world. Her father, King Triton is the ruler of Atlantica. He has a deep hatred for the human world and is overly protective of his daughter, Ariel.
When Ariel goes to the surface and rescues the handsome Prince Eric from a terrible storm out at sea, she is more determined then ever before to be human, so she could be with him. She visits the conniving and sassy sea-witch Ursula, who makes a lofty deal with her, so she could be human. Ariel has three days on land to be with Prince Eric, but she must give Ursula her voice. The only way for Ariel to remain human and stay on land with Prince Eric is through the “kiss of true love”. Ariel agrees to the deal and becomes human.
Meanwhile, on land, Eric is searching for the girl who rescued him and is disappointed that he hasn’t found her yet. Thankfully, his trusty dog, Max sniffs out Ariel in her human form and leads Eric to her.
Upon meeting Ariel, Eric is certain that’s met her before, but he can’t remember where. So, he invites her to his palace to stay. They have an instant connection and Eric is smitten with Ariel, despite the fact that she can’t speak.
Three days pass, and Ursula comes to land, disguised as Vanessa to collect Ariel and to steal her ever after. Eric is elated to discover that Ariel had rescued him and risks his life to save her. Ariel’s father, King Triton is alerted by Sebastian and Flounder of Ursula’s plan and he confronts her, demanding his daughter back. To save Ariel, King Triton trades his power to rescue his daughter. Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and Flounder work together to try and defeat Ursula. With Eric’s quick-thinking, he impales Ursula.
Shortly after the battle, King Triton is once again the ruler of the sea and he sees just how much Ariel and Eric love each other. So, he transforms Ariel into a human. Eric is elated that she’s returned him. They happy couple gets married and they lived happily ever after.
The Little Mermaid premiered in 1989 and was an instant success. It grossed $84 million dollars at the box office.The film went on to win two Academy Awards for Original Score and Original Song (Under the Sea) in 1990.
The Little Mermaid revitalized the Walt Disney Studio’s, bringing it back to life, and launching the Disney Renaissance! It’s astonishing to think, that if it wasn’t for The Little Mermaid, we wouldn’t be streaming Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian on Disney+ today!
The songs in The Little Mermaid were written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and forever changed the Walt Disney Company and it’s contribution to music.
Alan Menken revolutionized Disney and the Disney musical by using the musical theater format in storytelling. They did this, by using storytelling techniques, typically used in musical theater and giving them a Disney twist.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman as a team, wrote and composed all the songs for The Little Mermaid, staying true to their musical theater roots. Ariel’s iconic song of Part of Your World. Howard Ashman famously referred to this song as the “want song” and it is.
During Part of Your World, we learn about Ariel’s hopes and dreams of exploring land and asking humans questions about the human world.
Growing up in the 90s, the music in The Little Mermaid was a pivotal point in our childhood. Singing along to the soundtrack on cassette and watching the movie on VHS.
As children, we lived and breathed the soundtrack, knowing every song word for word from memory. We didn’t just listen to the music, we absorbed it and lived it every time we sang the memorable lyrics.
The music of The Little Mermaid has a voice that is completely it’s own and there is nothing like it.
And we can all thank Alan Menken and Howard Ashman for that! Thank you Alan, for making us Part of Your world!
On July 16th, 2020 the Walt Disney Studios had announced that it would debut an original documentary on the life and music of Disney Legend, Howard Ashman titled Howard.
Howard is scheduled to be streamed on Disney+ on August 7th, 2020.
Howard Ashman’s influence on Disney is evident, even today. He used the storytelling formula, normally used in musical theater and Disneyfied it.
If it wasn’t for Howard Ashman, Ariel wouldn’t have her iconic “want song” of Part of Your World.
He was even referred as “Another Walt” by Roy E. Disney for his passion of music, drive for perfection, and love of storytelling.
The announcement of this documentary is very exciting for any Disney fan or fan of The Little Mermaid knowing that Howard’s contributions to The Walt Disney Studios goes beyond the storyboard and piano.
This documentary will give fans a chance to learn more about a man whose become nothing short of a Legend. Howard Ashman.
For those who truly know me, know that Sierra Boggess has been an inspiration of mine since 2008. That year, Sierra originated the role as Ariel and made her Broadway debut in Disney’s stage musical adaption of The Little Mermaid.
Something in my heart, knew that my life would change forever when I purchased the soundtrack (compact disc) at Border’s Bookstore. And it did. The soundtrack changed my life and to this day, it’s always on repeat. But more importantly, Sierra’s message of:
You are Enough.
You are so Enough.
It’s Unbelievable how Enough You are!
Sierra and her voice, has given me the confidence to pursue my dreams, when I had many telling me I couldn’t or I wasn’t good enough. Whenever I listen to her sing Part of Your World or If Only (Quartet), I’m reminded that our dreams are worth striving for, regardless of what others say and that making sacrifices is part of that journey.
I personally use my Light Lessons by Sierra Boggess as motivation and inspiration daily. Sierra’s Light Lesson’s are daily reminders that you can change the world with kindness and gratitude practice. That we can all lift each other up, by showing the world, our best selves and recognizing our enoughness!
So how did Sierra Boggess land the iconic role of Ariel on Broadway?
In 2006, Sierra went to New York to audition for a new production of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas. Before she had boarded her flight, Sierra got a call that she had landed the role of Christine. It was a role of a lifetime!
As an alternate Christine, she would perform alongside Brent Barrett and Anthony Crivello as her Phantom’s. This production was directed by Hal Prince. The show opened on June 24th, 2006.
Sierra dazzled the Las Vegas stage as Christine, embodying the character’s innocence, empathy, and strength, unlike any other actress before her.
In October 2006, Sierra returned to New York to audition for Disney’s new musical The Little Mermaid for the role of Ariel. The musical would be based off of Disney’s animated film version of The Little Mermaid. Sierra unfortunately, didn’t receive a call-back for the audition, so she returned to Las Vegas, and continued to play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera.
While she was attending a yoga class in January 2007, Sierra received a call from her agent telling her to “fly to NYC in three days for a final callback for The Little Mermaid. “And that is how she got the iconic role of Ariel on Broadway!
On November 3rd, 2007 the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NYC, Sierra Boggess made her Broadway debut as Ariel! The official opening night for the production of The Little Mermaid was January 10th, 2008.
As a fan of Sierra’s, since her Broadway debut, I don’t think she understood the impact, she would later have on musical theater and on the lives of many. I have fond memories of watching Sierra sing Part of Your World on The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Tony Awards, and so many other TV programs, desperately wishing I could someday see her perform live.
Sierra received nominations from Drama Desk and Drama League and won the Broadway.com Favorite Breakthrough Performance for her role as Ariel!
Thank you Sierra Boggess, for inspiring so many and to embrace who they are! You are a true inspiration and incredible performer! And remember…You are Enough. You are so Enough. It’s unbelievable how Enough You Are!
The Little Mermaid Live! debuted on November 5th, 2019, as a special film-hybrid anniversary concert. It was filmed on location at the Walt Disney Studios.
A glowing Jodi Benson (voice of Ariel) opened the show, sharing some of her memories of making The Little Mermaid 30 years ago and how much, the film has been apart of her life.
The Little Mermaid Live! was directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, and Hamish Hamilton.
John Musker and Ron Clements wrote the original script for The Little Mermaid for Disney in the 80s. Like Jodi Benson, anything regarding The Little Mermaid, they’ve written it, such as the The Little Mermaid TV Series, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, and so much more. So, it’s no surprise, that they were involved in The Little Mermaid Live! as well as the new The Little Mermaid Live Action film starring Halle Bailey as Ariel.
The Little Mermaid Live! starred Auli’i Cravalho as Ariel, Shaggy as Sebastian, Graham Philips as Prince Eric, John Stamos as Chef Louis, and Queen Latifah as Ursula.
One of the best performances of the night, was Queen Latifah singing ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’. She added her own spin to the classic song, for the villain Ursula. Queen Latifah owned the stage and personified Ursula in every way.
Another fan favorite moment of the night was Auli’i (Ariel) and Graham (Eric) singing ‘If Only’. ‘If Only’ first made it’s debut in 2008, for The Little Mermaid on Broadway. It was a wonderful opportunity for fans, who had never heard the song for the very first time.
The Little Mermaid Live! overall, was filled with many magical moments, including John Stamos (Chef Louis) forgetting Prince Eric’s name.
It was definitely a wonderful blend of screen and stage, that many fans will remember as a wonderful way to commemorate the 30th anniversary of The Little Mermaid.
This particular article is dedicated to Disney Legend: Jodi Benson, whose changed and inspired the lives of many.
Jodi is best-known for providing the talking and singing voice of Ariel in Disney’s 1989 film, The Little Mermaid.
For many of us, growing up in the 90’s, Ariel was a part of our childhood’s and memories. We danced to the unforgettable soundtrack on a cassette tape, pretended to be mermaid’s in the pool, and begged our parent’s to take us to Disney Parks, just to catch a glimpse of Ariel or if we were lucky enough, to meet her.
Ariel was one of our earliest role models, before many of us knew, what a role model was. We desired Ariel’s life, the same way, Ariel desired to explore the human world and to be on land. Jodi’s influence has transcended for a lot of fans, beyond childhood. We see Jodi Benson as an icon, inspiration, friend, and mentor. She’s helped shape the lives of many, by being as vocal, strong, and determined as Ariel. We are forever blessed to have Jodi be a part of our world. There are many of us, who are eternally grateful to Jodi, in ways, that mere words cannot describe.
If it wasn’t for Jodi Benson voicing Ariel, this blog, wouldn’t exist. It’s because of Ariel, that I became interested in mermaid’s. Ariel was and forever will be, my favorite Disney Princess and will continue to inspire me in all aspects of my life. For me, no trip to any Disney Park is complete without visiting Ariel. And there are many other fans, who would say the exact same thing.
So, how did Jodi land the iconic role of Ariel?
Short answer. Howard Ashman.
Back in 1986, Jodi Benson starred in the ill-fated musical Smile at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, that only ran for 48 performances and closed January 1987. The lyrics and book for Smile were written by Howard Ashman.
After the show closed, Howard offered an audition to Jodi and the other girl’s in Smile for another project he was working on with Alan Menken. That film was Disney’s The Little Mermaid. He gave Jodi a snippet of the script and a cassette recording of him singing Part of Your World.
A year later, Jodi would get a phone call that would change her life forever. She got the part of Ariel.
The Little Mermaid would be Disney’s first fairy tale film in 30 years. The film is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Little Mermaid that was published in 1837. Many fans, would consider Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid as their introduction to the classic fairy tale and to mermaids.
As we grew up, so did Disney’s The Little Mermaid franchise. Jodi voiced Ariel in video games, TV Shows, sequels and prequels, and so much more. The franchise itself, would be nothing without her.
Thanks Jodi for being Part of Our World! We love you!