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Theatre / The Little Mermaid

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The Little Mermaid is a Broadway musical adapted from the 1989 Disney animated classic.

It tells the tale of a teenage mermaid named Ariel who wishes she could be a human. When she falls in love with a human man, Ariel goes to a sea-witch to transform her into a human.

There are two versions of the play: the original Broadway version and the revised European one. The latter fixes some issues audiences had with the play, removes songs, and is easier to produce due to set simplifications. A major plot change in the revised version is that Triton had thought that humans had killed his wife when it was in actuality his sister Ursula.

The show debuted in Denver in 2007 before going to Broadway in 2008. The show ran until August of 2009, though a heavily revised version is still shown off of Broadway. The closure was supposed to be temporary however the show hasn't been brought back since. International versions of the show were produced in Israel, Japan, the Philippines, Brazil, Russia, and the Netherlands.

The Little Mermaid contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Ursula's character design shows less inspiration from Divine than in the original movie, and in the original cast, she was played by Sherie Renee Scott.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job: The Broadway show gives Ursula pale skin and green tentacles, as opposed to her film counterpart's purple skin and black tentacles. This somewhat brings to mind her sister Morgana from the sequel film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The Broadway musical expands on the backstories and the world: Ursula and Triton are siblings (an element that was in the film draft's but got cut), and heirs to the sea, Eric is an orphaned prince who doesn't want to face his new responsibilities, and humans killed Ariel's mother (incorporated from the prequel movie).
    • The touring version adds another element to the death of Ariel's mother: Triton only thought humans killed her. In reality, Ursula murdered her and somehow managed to blame it on humans.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Eric's dog Max, who found Ariel both in human and mermaid guise. This is for pragmatic reasons, since having a trained dog onstage is impractical.
    • Ursula's alter-ego Vanessa isn't in the play. She was intended to appear but was removed when her original actress complained that introducing Vanessa made Ursula out of character.
    • In the film continuity, Ursula had a sister (Morgana) and an unnamed mother. They do not exist in the musical's universe, since Ursula is now one of Poseidon's daughters.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • While Triton still crosses the line by destroying Ariel's human treasures, he attempts to be a Reasonable Authority Figure about her missing her big concert debut and calls out Sebastian and Flounder for hiding where his daughter was from him.
    • Ursula has fewer Kick the Dog moments towards Ariel in the play than she does in the film, though she is still a horrifying villain. She doesn't hypnotize Eric in her Vanessa guise but merely waits for the voice contest to take up the last of the third day. She also makes sure her spell helps Ariel get to the surface as the latter is changing into a human, rather than leave her to drown in her lair. Finally, when Triton takes Ariel's place in the contract, she merely plans to banish him rather than turn him into a sea creature.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • Flounder doesn't get any of his Let's Get Dangerous! moments from the animated movie, like helping Sebastian rescue Eric from the eels. He also comes off as more childlike.
    • Eric also comes off as this given the musical cuts out his rescuing Max and driving a broken ship into Ursula.
    • Scuttle also doesn't have his dramatic "Stall the Wedding" scene though he manages to help Ariel learn how to walk.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Flotsam and Jetsam are electric eels here instead of Moray eels. This works in favor of the staging for "Kiss the Girl"; they obviously can't flip Eric and Ariel's boat over onstage, so they electrocute it instead.
  • Age Lift: In the Japanese version, Ariel is 18 years old, not 16.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Grimsby doesn't believe in mermaids or King Triton, calling them "Nautical nonsense" even as the sailors hear a mysterious voice. Eric calls him out on this by the end, and Grimsby is forced to admit he was wrong.
  • Ascended Extra: While Flotsam and Jetsam were basically Ursula's attack dogs in the original, they're much more fleshed out here. They have more dialogue, established personalities, and even their own Villain Song ("Sweet Child").
  • Cain and Abel: Ursula and Triton; justified as Ursula murdered their six other sisters and set her sights on murdering Ariel's mother. Triton put a stop to that, though he wasn't able to save his wife.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Rather than let Eric get close enough to harpoon her, Ursula uses her newly-acquired trident to send his ship away.
  • Cruel Mercy: Rather than kill Ursula for murdering their sisters and being a tyrant, Triton banished her. Ursula attempts to return the favor when she manages to wrest the trident from him in a Deal with the Devil.
  • Dark Reprise: Ursula sings an even more sinister version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" once Triton agrees to take his daughter's place.
    Ursula: And now you poor unfortunate soul, time's up! You're through!
    Now the magic of Poseidon has been, once again, made whole.
    All the magic of the trident and the shell in my control.
    And now dark shall reign forever over ocean, sea, and shoal!

    You poor unfortunate soul!
  • Decomposite Character: There are now two seahorse heralds in King Triton's court; in the film, there was only one. They appear to serve as parallels to Flotsam and Jetsam (and were even played by the same actors in the original production).
  • Evil Aunt: Ursula is apparently Triton’s sister in the stage production and she eagerly uses her niece to take away her brother’s power and kingdom.
  • Forced to Watch: In the Denver pre-Broadway run, Ariel didn't change back into a mermaid after the third sunset. Instead, Flotsam and Jetsam grab her in human form as Ursula crashes the voice contest, flooding the hall with water, and Triton appears to save his daughter. Ursula implies that she'll take the human-Ariel to her watery chamber, as the contract stipulates, which means Ariel will drown. Understandably Triton takes Ariel's place in the deal before Ursula can act on that.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry:
    • Exaggerated where Ursula killed all of her sisters, and Triton had to intervene.
    • Averted with Ariel and her sisters. Though they're annoyed at her for missing her debut and flitting around while in love, they do love her and try to be supportive.
  • Hartman Hips: Ursula is an Exaggerated case of this due to the circumstances of casting and costuming. Rather than hire a plus size actress, the show instead opted to hire the medium-weight Sherie Rene Scott and give her a costume that had a ridiculous amount of padding at her midsection, as a way to still give a nod to cartoon Ursula's weight. This gave the effect of her having a gigantic waist, hips, and butt while the rest of her remained thinner. Even when slightly heavier actresses such as Cicily Daniels played the role, the same costume design was still used, which gave the same effect. Sherie Rene Scott gave this a Lampshade Hanging in the behind-the-scenes footage while showing her costume.
    Sherie: Guess what this is? Everyone should have one! I'm trying to make them, um, like an… it's like the only thing that like hasn't been in fashion, is a giant, giant… ASS!
  • Not Helping Your Case: Sebastian tries to cheer up Ariel by performing "Under the Sea" after Triton destroys her treasures. Since she's still mad at him and has been planning to run away, she just leaves before he can finish the song and realize she's missing.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Ariel and Scuttle when the storm blows Scuttle off the boat.
    • Ariel when her father busts her in the grotto.
    • Sebastian when Ariel disappears during his performance of "Under the Sea".
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: A few moments from the film have been removed or altered to better suit the stage adaptation.
    • The chase sequence with the shark has been omitted.
    • As mentioned above, Flotsam and Jetsam (now electric eels) interrupt Ariel and Eric's kiss by zapping their boat, instead of flipping it over completely.
    • The entire Vanessa subplot has been cut, including the dramatic wedding scene where she is attacked by sea creatures before transforming back into Ursula. In its place, a singing contest is held to find Eric's mysterious savior, and Ursula simply barges in to shut it down and take back Ariel.
    • The climax has been completely rewritten: Ursula no longer grows into a giant and fights Eric on his ship. Instead, she has a final confrontation with Ariel, who vanquishes her by shattering her magic shell.
  • Race Lift: The original cast has significantly more diversity than the original film, wherein the originating role of King Triton is played by a Black actor and several of Ariel's sisters are non-white.
  • Read the Fine Print: It's in the play. To be fair, Ursula does read it aloud before getting to discussing her fee.
    Ursula: Lawyers. Don’t you just love ‘em!
  • Rebellious Princess:
    • Gender-flipped variant. Prince Eric doesn't have an interest in ruling his kingdom and settling down. He wants to spend his birthday following the mysterious voice he's heard.
    • Princess Ariel is one, the youngest of seven sisters. She has no interest in using her singing voice, only exploring the human world.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Ursula is Ariel's aunt. She and Triton are siblings. This is reused from earlier scripts from the film.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: In the Junior version, using the Trident ends up being Ursula's undoing, as she can't control its power.
  • Shout-Out: In the revised version, when he's explaining the dinglehopper to Ariel and Flounder, Scuttle explains that "humans like to wear their hair in tails - a pony, or a pig, or a duck-"
  • Soul Jar: Ursula now owns a magic shell (a gift from her father Poseidon) that encapsulates both her powers and her life force. If it gets destroyed, she will vanish forever. You can probably tell how she gets defeated at the end...
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Flotsam and Jetsam aren't killed by Ariel throwing off Ursula's would-be fatal blow at Eric, due to Ursula simply sending Eric's ship away. Instead they swim away before Ariel destroys Ursula's shell.
  • Title Drop: The stage version doesn't have Vanessa, but it does still have a title drop during the number "If Only:"
    Sebastian: Tomorrow the prince will have his pick of any princess in the kingdom. How can a little mermaid compete with that?
  • Took a Level in Badass: Flotsam and Jetsam, Ursula’s followers, seem much more threatening in the stage musical story and certainly are more devious.
  • Villain Has a Point: Ursula notes that Ariel takes her voice for granted, something Triton and Sebastian have also said.
  • Villain Song:
    • Ursula has two: "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from the original and the new song "I Want the Good Times Back," where she sings about how much fun she had as a tyrant over her half of the sea. Later productions replace "Good Times" with another new song, "Daddy's Little Angel", where she reminisces about murdering each of her sisters before Triton was born.
    • Flotsam and Jetsam lure Ariel to Ursula's lair with their own duet, "Sweet Child".
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: King Triton. His solution to Ariel rebelling is to threaten to ground her for a year.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Flotsam and Jetsam disappear near the end, leaving their fates uncertain.

Tropes for ABC Live Broadcast

  • Adaptational Modesty: Justified; Auliʻi Cravalho was 17 at the time of doing the show (her birthday is on November 22), meaning she was still a minor while filming on November 5, 2018. Her Ariel seashell bra has substantially more coverage than other versions of Ariel have, in both animation and Broadway, as well as the seashell bras that Ariel's sisters' actresses have.
  • And Then What?: Ariel points out that if she takes the deal, she won't see her father or family. Ursula says, "Sorry dear, no way to spin it. Life's full of tough choices, innit?"
  • Audience Participation: The audience is given blue streamers for "Fathoms Below" to wave around, and crab claws for "Les Poissons". They also imitate Louie's laugh as he tosses seasonings at them.
  • Birds of a Feather: Eric sings how he is trapped in his role as a prince, that he's expected to marry and rule his kingdom. It's a nice counterpart to "Part of Your World."
  • Canon Foreigner: "The Daughters of Triton" has Amber Riley as their Emcee and introducing them. When they all go Mass "Oh, Crap!" on realizing Ariel isn't in her concert shell, she quickly ends the show with a big smile and a long set of high notes. Unsurprisingly, Amber gets nearly a minute of applause.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Bagel the sheepdog is a female, playing the male Max. She also wears her hair down to look more like Max; her Instagram promoting her therapy dog work has her with pink hair ribbons.
  • Dark Reprise: Just like the Broadway musical, Ursula gets a victorious reprise of "Poor Unfortunate Souls".
  • Dope Slap: When Eric is singing about how he doesn't want to marry, one of the sailors dresses in canvas and a wig to troll him. Eric gives him a tiny smack for the joke.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Parental Substitute love. Despite being visibly seasick, Grimsby is smiling as Eric shows him the waves, enjoying how his prince is enjoying his birthday.
  • Large Ham:
    • Queen Latifah as Ursula is milking all of the attention, especially for her costume.
    • Chef Louie demands applause from the audience, waving his hands to beg for more.
  • Medium Blending: In the scene where Scuttle sees the sea witch, he sees a live-action Ursula there.
  • Precious Puppy: The crowd goes wild during "Fathoms Below" when Bagel the sheepdog, who plays Max, walks onstage. Even onset, Eric's actor can't help but give her scritches and another sailor pets her as everyone else wraps up the song.
  • Race Lift: Grimsby is black in this version, as opposed to being white.
    • Ariel is played by a mixed race ( Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Chinese, Native Hawaiian, and Irish) actress and several of her sisters are also played by various kinds of people of color.
  • The Show Must Go On: The Emcee remains smiling at the concert even when realizing the star performer is missing. She quickly wraps up the song, while belting.