Little Mermaid Monday: Who are Howard Ashman and Alan Menken?

Ashman and Menken

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

We are in the third week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. Let’s just say, we are all excited about hearing our favorite childhood anthems being brought to life on The Rep stage.

So, who is behind the magical score that captivated children so many years ago and still resonates today? It’s Howard Ashman and Alan Menken!

A great deal of the success of Disney’s animated screen adaptation of The Little Mermaid can be attributed to the film’s infectious score by lyricist Ashman and composer Menken. Featuring bouncy production numbers such as “Under the Sea,” romantic ballads such as “Kiss the Girl,” and the ode to Ariel’s longing, “Part of Your World,” these musical numbers add tone and color to the story. But, more importantly they deftly reveal character motivation and the emotional undercurrents of the story.

Prior to The Little Mermaid, Ashman and Menken were best known for their 1982 sci-fi rock musical based on Roger Corman’s 1960 dark comic film The Little Shop of Horrors. The musical, which grounds the action in its 1960s time period by utilizing doo-wop, rock-and-roll, and Supremes-like girl group R & B numbers, was an overwhelming success Off-Broadway. It was later turned into a 1986 film musical starring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.

Following the release of the 1986 film of Little Shop, Ashman was brought into Disney Studios to assist with the film Oliver & Company, when he was recruited (along with Menken) to create the score for The Little Mermaid. The film broke box-office records and ushered in what is known as the “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s, a return to the quality and popularity of Disney’s animated features of several decades before. Their contributions to the film won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and a Grammy.

Ashman and Menken collaborated on two more mega-hits for Disney: 1991’s Beauty and the Beast and 1992’s Aladdin. However, Ashman would not live to see the premieres of either of these films. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he passed away in March 1991. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to his memory.

Broadway lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) assisted Menken with completing the songs in Aladdin. Menken went on to compose music for Newsies (1992), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010).Kiss the Girl

In 2007, Disney Theatricals mounted a live stage production of The Little Mermaid on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with an expanded score featuring the film’s songs by Ashman and Menken and additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. It was helmed by noted opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello and starred Sierra Boggess as Ariel, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, Norm Lewis as Triton, and Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula. The original production encountered several script and technical issues and was reimagined in 2012 for subsequent performances, most notably updating the undersea effects with aerial flying technology.

Information compiled by Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Read more about the music and The Little Mermaid in our Study Guide here.

Little Mermaid Monday: Q&A with Aerial Director Joshua Dean

Flying 1We are in the second week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. One thing is for sure: this is going to be a musical that you’ve never seen before.

To create the movement you’ll see in this underwater adventure, Choreographer Adam Cates enlisted the help of 2 Ring Circus, a theatrical circus group out of New York City, to add aerial and groundwork circus acts. Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett interviewed aerial director Joshua Dean, who, alongside Ben Franklin and Lani Corson, will be a part of the ensemble in the show.

Find out what he had to say about how they got involved in the show, what magical elements you’ll see and more:

Q: Tell us a little about 2 Ring Circus.

A: 2 Ring Circus is a company of four friends who came together to create their own brand of circus. We all came from musical theater or dance backgrounds before becoming circus artists. Now, we try to combine the theatricality of those genres with the excitement of the circus to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Q: How did you first become involved with this type of movement/aerial work?

A: I was asked by director Donna Drake to choreograph and perform aerial fabric in a show that she was directing. I began taking classes at once and it all grew from there. I spent several years working to become a professional aerialist and then began to teach. As a teacher, I began to train my friends and future company members.

Q: If a student were interested in “learning to fly,” what would you suggest they need to do to prepare and train for a career in this unique field?

A: Train, train, train. This is field that takes a lot of discipline. It is very dangerous and without Flying 2that discipline, you could get injured by an accident or fall. I do believe that anyone can do this. It just takes the drive and patience. It will take a while to build the strength and any type of conditioning can help.

Q: Is this the first time you have ever worked with the Arkansas Rep? Have you worked with any of the other members of The Little Mermaid’s artistic team?

A: This is my first time working at The Rep. Ben, Lani and I are all very excited to create the circus elements for the show. Ben has worked with our amazing director, Melissa, before. Ben and myself have done several shows with Adam, our choreographer.

Q: What attracts you to a project like The Little Mermaid?

A: As a company, we love to combine theatre with circus. Two of our original production show creations have a very theatrical feel. We like the challenge of making circus elements integral to the plot and finding apparatus and movement that can help forward the story without distracting unnecessarily.

Q: How is this kind of specific movement/aerial work integral to a musical like The Little Mermaid?

A: This show has the potential for lots of magic and spectacle. We are using circus elements to make the life under the sea even more exciting. This includes the various sea creatures floating around under the ocean and the drowning prince being rescued to a mermaid floating on an anchor. These are just a few examples of how you will see circus integrated in the show.

Q: The Little Mermaid is not technically a Christmas story. How do you think this piece, with its memorable music and the special performance aspects you will be contributing, will contribute to the holiday spirit in Little Rock this year?

A: The holiday season is about the joy and wonder of it all and I believe The Little Mermaid checks those boxes perfectly.

Q: What is your favorite moment in the show a) from a choreographic standpoint and b) from an emotional perspective?

A: My favorite moment to create in the show will be the transformation. It is the moment when Ariel first gets her legs. It is going to be quite tricky to get it all right, but that is what will make it worth it. In that instance, it will take every department: costumes, direction, choreography, lights, tech crew pulling lines, etc. Trying to make everything work as we have conceived it is the fun moment for me. It will take a lot of tries, but I am certain it will be worth it.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take with them from this production?

A: The joy of theatre. It is my passion and I am so blessed to be part of it. I hope we can inspire people not only to want to do this, but to want to come back and see another show. Without an audience, we do not have an art.

Q: What is the first instance of theatrical magic you remember? How has that moment shaped you as an artist?

A: The first time I saw a scrim, my mind was blown. I remember seeing a tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories brought to the stage on a school trip. When I was looking at a painted drop of a house and then saw an actor appear through it clear as day, I could not believe my eyes. I did not understand it, but I wanted to know more.

For more information about 2 Ring Circus, visit their official website here.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Little Mermaid Monday: An Introduction

LittleMermaidToday is a big day: We are kicking off our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid.

To get you in the mermaid spirit and as a refresher, we are taking look at the story and characters with a little help from our Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Plot

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. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs: “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” and “Part of Your World.”

Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above and bargains 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.

From MTIshows.com

Characters

(In Order of Appearance)

  •  ARIEL, a mermaid, King Triton’s youngest daughter
  • PILOT, helmsman of Prince Eric’s ship
  • SAILORS
  • PRINCE ERIC, a human monarch
  • GRIMSBY, guardian of Prince Eric
  • FLOUNDER, a fish, Ariel’s best friend
  • SCUTTLE, a seagull, expert in human artifacts
  • SEA CREATURES of various shapes, sizes and species
  • WINDWARD & LEEWARD, trumpet fish, heralds in King Triton’s court
  • KING TRITON, King of the Sea
  • SEBASTIAN, a crab, advisor to King Triton
  • MERSISTERS (Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atina, AdelIa, Allana), daughters of King Triton
  • FLOTSAM, an eel, lackey to Ursula
  • JETSAM, an eel, the other lackey to Ursula
  • URSULA, the Sea Witch, sister of King Triton
  • GULLS
  • MAIDS
  • CHEF LOUIS, the Palace chef, a culinary perfectionist
  • CHEFS, sous staff of Chef Louis
  • PRINCESSES, potential mates for Prince Eric

The magical musical will run for five weeks with performances from Dec. 2-Jan. 3, Wednesday through Sunday, with special Saturday matinees on Dec. 5 and 26 and Jan. 2. Check out all of the fun surround events here.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.