To kick off its spectacular 2017-18 “Ten Great Years” SunTrust Broadway Series, the Durham Performing Arts Center will present nine performances of the sensational national tour of the revamped 2012 version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, co-produced by Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight and directed by Glenn Casale, who revamped the 2008 Broadway musical five years ago for a 2013 run at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and subsequent productions. The current tour stars as Steve Blanchard as Triton, son of Poseidon and king of the “merfolk” who inhabit the ancient undersea continent of Atlantica; Diana Huey as Triton’s often headstrong redheaded youngest daughter, 16-year-old Ariel; Eric Kunze as Eric, the handsome 18-year-old terrestrial prince whom Ariel saves from drowning during a storm at sea and with whom she promptly falls head over, er, fins; and Meredith Inglesby as the treacherous sea witch Ursula, who wants to usurp her brother, King Triton, and rule over Atlantica in his stead.
The tour also stars Melvin Abston as Sebastian, a big red Jamaican crab who serves King Triton; Allen Fitzpatrick as Prince Eric’s manservant and friend Grimsby; Brandon Roach and Frederick Hagreen as Ursula’s icky-green moray-eel henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam; Marco Ramos as Flounder the brightly colored tropical fish; and Jamie Torcellini as Scuttle the seagull. The Ensemble includes (in alphabetical order): Ashley Anderson, Kristin Burch, Venny Carranza, Melissa Glasgow, Sheldon Henry, Bety Le, Scott Leiendecker, Michael McGurk, Amanda Minano, Becca Orts, James Shackelford, Brian Shaw, Dane Stokinger, Brenna Wagner, and Brittany Zeinstra.
When the curtain rises on Disney’s The Little Mermaid, according to Music Theatre International, “In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above…. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages…. [T]his fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including ‘Under the Sea,’ ‘Kiss the Girl,’ and ‘Part of Your World.’ Ariel … wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above, bargaining with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems, and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends, Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull, and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea.”
For Broadway and national tour veteran Steve Blanchard, it is great to be the king … again. “This role is such a natural fit for me,” he quips, “because I am the father of three girls.” (King Triton has seven daughters!) Blanchard, who first played King Triton in Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta on a previous tour in 2014 and joined the current tour on November 2016 in Seattle, WA, adds, “The Little Mermaid is a story about a father and a daughter, and I stick closely to that scenario.”
Disney’s The Little Mermaid made its Broadway debut, directed by Francesca Zambello and choreographed by Stephen Meaon, on Jan. 10, 2008 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it racked up 685 performances before closing on Aug. 30, 2009. The under-the-sea musical fantasy features music by eight-time Oscar® winner Alan Menken, lyrics by his songwriting partner two-time Academy Award® winner Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a book by Doug Wright, based on the 1989 animated Disney film and the original 1837 Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75). The show’s original Broadway production earned 2008 Tony Award® nominations for Best Original Score Written for the Theatre and for Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Natasha Katz), plus three 2008 Drama Desk Award nominations. (Menken and Ashman’s song “Under the Sea” for The Little Mermaid film won the 1990 Best Music, Original Song Oscar, and “Kiss the Girl” was nominated in the same Academy Award category.)
Steve Blanchard, a 58-year-old Bryans Road, MD native and 1980 graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, notes that in 2012, at the behest of the show’s producers, “[Director] Glenn Casale got together with [playwright] Doug Wright … and essentially made the show’s storytelling more clear…. They juiced up the storytelling aspect of the play, and made it more clear what happened to Triton and Ursula and where Ariel’s mother is….” Blanchard says Casale also added new songs and repurposed old songs.
He adds, “In any animated feature film, such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, there are only about five or six songs. For a Broadway musical, you have to flesh out the existing songs and add several new songs.”
Steve Blanchard has played both Gaston and the Beast in Beast and the Beauty on Broadway and on tour and Lancelot in 1993 Broadway Revival and subsequent tour of Camelot. Indeed, he played the Beast on Broadway and on tour for 11 years (more times than anyone else). But he also delighted in playing the insufferably conceited Gaston. “That role was so rich and dark; it was like playing a Disney cartoon character, and I loved it,” quipped Blanchard during an interview with Triangle Review last August, when he played penny-pinching newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies at DPAC. He added, “It’s always a joy and a pleasure to play the villain, because villains are usually … so complex and so diverse that you can play them any way that you want to…. I try to bring the essence of the real [Joseph Pulitzer] into the play. He was such a firestorm, a real self-made man….”
Blanchard noted then, “All of my scenes [in Newsies] are with my wife, because she [plays Pulitzer’s] secretary [Hannah]. She has a great many scene-stealing moments in this show, and I try not to look upstage,” he chuckled.
Fourteen months later, Steve Blanchard and his wife, Meredith Inglesby, find themselves onstage together again. “Meredith will be assuming the role of Ursula, beginning in Durham,” says Blanchard. “This time, we play brother and sister [with sibling rivalry a la Cain and Abel]. It’s awesome, because we get to air out all the stuff between us onstage. It’s fantastic,” he claims, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. “It’s like therapy.”
Blanchard adds that the hardest part of his role as King Triton happens when he’s dangling 10 to 20 feet above the stage. “Probably the biggest challenge that we have is simulating swimming by flying [in midair sequences created by aerial choreographer Paul Rubin],” he says. “I’m on a Foy flight system, and singing while flying is probably the most difficult thing that I have to do….” Blanchard says that he has only one song, “If Only”; but he sings it three times!
Steve Blanchard says, “There’s something special for everyone in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, whether you are five or 95…. Alan Menken’s music is just off the chart catchy and hummable,” he says with a grin. “I think he’s got a big future ahead of him.”
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/disneys-the-little-mermaid/Event?oid=8553712.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, 8 p.m. Oct. 20, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 21, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 22 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1127692.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=4YFKcVxM7ZY.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21st, performance.
The Little Mermaid (Den lille Havfrue) (1837 Danish fairy tale): http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheLittleMermaid_e.html (Jean Hersholt’s English translation from the Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid (Wikipedia).
Hans Christian Andersen (Danish author, 1805-75): http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/liv/index_e.html (Hans Christian Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Christian_Andersen (Wikipedia).
Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989 animated film): http://movies.disney.com/the-little-mermaid (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid_%281989_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2008 Broadway musical): http://www.mtishows.com/disneys-the-little-mermaid (Music Theatre International page for Revised Regional Version), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-little-mermaid-456221 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid_musical (Wikipedia).
Alan Menken (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alan-menken-12135 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0579678/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (Wikipedia).
Glenn Slater (lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glenn-slater-80644 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Slater (Wikipedia).
Howard Ashman (lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/howard-ashman-6356 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0039141/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Ashman (Wikipedia).
Doug Wright (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/doug-wright-113564 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Wright (Wikipedia).
Pittsburgh CLO (tour producer): http://www.pittsburghclo.org/, https://www.facebook.com/PghCLO, https://twitter.com/pittsburghclo, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Civic_Light_Opera, and https://www.youtube.com/user/PittsburghCLO.
Kansas City Starlight (tour producer): http://www.kcstarlight.com/, http://www.facebook.com/kcstarlight, http://twitter.com/KCStarlight, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlight_Theatre_(Kansas_City,_Missouri).
Glenn Casale (tour director): http://www.glenncasale.com/index.html (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glenn-casale-14395 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0142811/ (Internet Movie Database).
Steve Blanchard (actor who plays King Triton): http://www.steveblanchard.net/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/steven-blanchard-77241 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/22511 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0087104/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/steve.blanchard.779 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/sblanchcrd (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Blanchard (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)