HitFix

Rebel Wilson as Ursula, more highlights from ‘The Little Mermaid’ live

Disney fans were in for a massive smile-inducing and tear-jerking event at Los Angeles” Hollywood Bowl on Friday when a 71-piece orchestra and talented vocal line-up performed the music of The Little Mermaid live to picture at a concert screening.

Among the cast taking on the roles in the beloved 1989 animated film were Sara Bareilles as Ariel, Rebel Wilson as Ursula, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, Darren Criss as Prince Eric, and John Stamos as Chef Louis.

In a post-Merida, post-Elsa world, Ariel”s tale of longing to leave her father”s home and adventure into another world still resonates with audiences. The ever-catchiness of the music does too. That was evident as the power of nostalgia and the promise of a solid cast packed the Hollywood Bowl at Friday night”s show. The 17,000-seat venue had sold out within three hours, and two more shows were added (for Saturday and Monday) to meet demand.

Among the Little Mermaid fans who flocked to the Bowl on Friday was actress Jennifer Finnigan (The Bold and the Beautiful, TNT”s Tyrant). For her, “This was my childhood,” she told me during intermission. “I”ve seen this movie around 250 times. I was 10 when this came out. And I”m a huge fan of Sara Bareilles. When she came out and sang 'Part of Your World,' I was sobbing like a 10-year-old.”

Finnigan attended event with her husband, actor Jonathan Silverman, who shared the screen with his wife in too-short-lived TNT show Monday Mornings. The two learned about the concert screening when they saw the Bowl”s marquee advertising the Little Mermaid show while they were at the Bowl on Wednesday for Paul Simon”s concert. The lucky couple managed to get tickets to Mermaid on StubHub.

Also spotted at the L.A. event: Chloe Grace Moretz, who is set to play the little mermaid in an upcoming live-action take on the Hans Christensen Andersen fairy tale (the Universal one, not the rumored Disney one).

Though I saw plenty of kiddos in Ariel costumes and seashell barrettes and even Sebastian costumes, the crowd was overwhelmingly adult, and you could hear that in the film”s funny moments. No children”s giggles or amusing comments were really audible, at least where I was seated, during the show, but there was the delightful experience of being surrounded by the laughter of thousands of fellow kids-at-heart at all the little funny moments in the film, especially at the comedy supplied by Sebastian, Scuttle, and Flounder. (Plenty of adults and kids too played dress up; you can see some photos of attendees dolled up for the costume contest on HitFix's Instagram account.)

Rebel Wilson as Ursula, wearing a dress by David Meister with customization by Natasha. Photo credit: Randall Michelson

Wilson as Ursula was a hoot. Such spot-on casting. Her voice certainly has a different quality than the original Ursula (they changed the song”s key for Wilson”s performance), and, ultimately, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” does belong to Pat Carroll. But on Friday night, Wilson owned that song. She went full-saucy Ursula, with plenty of sassy looks at the crowd, waving them on to cheer her on more as she took the stage, shaking her hips throughout the musical number, all in a black and purple dress and towering blonde wig reminiscent of Ursula.

She even gave us a provocative shimmy at the point Ursula does.

Meanwhile, Bareilles – who had a clear, gorgeous voice for the mermaid princess –  did not do the “Ariel thrust” at the big, emotional finish of the “Part of Your World”  reprise – the concert”s creative director Richard Kraft told me ahead of rehearsals that he”d encourage the “Love Song” singer to do that thrust. Probably a better call that she didn”t. It would have been a silly mimicry of that animated moment where silly wouldn”t have felt as right as it did with comedienne Wilson”s musical number. Instead, at the stirring finale of that reprise, Bareilles slowly raised her arms into the air, more reminiscent of the moment human-again Ariel steps out of the sea to greet Eric at the end of the film.

Sara Bareilles as Ariel, wearing a dress by Kevin Hall. Photo credit: Randall Michelson; Walt Disney Animation

Music was the star of this show: While other live-to-picture concert screenings I”ve attended (including Back to the Future and E.T. – read our coverage here and here) have had a mix relatively close to that of the experience of seeing the film in a movie theater, the orchestra was particularly prominent at Friday”s show, making the details of Alan Menken”s every flourish all the more noticeable. The dialogue track (the live cast sang but didn”t speak their parts) was totally audible mixed with the orchestra, but sound effects were barely distinguishable. (Except for that crack of thunder at the start of the storm – that was loud and clear.) 

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