Seattle native Diana Huey never thought she would play Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid the musical. She even laughed out loud when Director Glen Casale asked her to play the role.
“I’m not a red-headed, blue-eyed mermaid,” she chuckled. “I was like, ‘You want to ask the Japanese girl for an audition for Ariel?!’ So I didn’t expect to get it, and it was an incredible surprise and a gift.”
Huey says watching Disney movies as a kid was the catalyst to her choosing a career in musical theater. She won the Helen Hayes Award for her performance as Kim in Miss Saigon and also worked with Casale on Solana, an original musical than ran in New York. Disney’s The Little Mermaid is her first national tour.
“Getting to do this is the dream job,” she said. “It’s incredible…I get to play a Disney princess and I get to play Ariel for the next year of my life. It feels very full circle getting to do a Disney show after loving it so much as a kid and as an adult. I’m a huge Disney fan so this is really magical.”
Huey says the tour has been challenging physically, but that her character as Ariel is inspiring her to be more adventurous and daring in her life. “I’ve left home and left a boyfriend in New York, and I’m living out of a suitcase and traveling to cities I’ve never been to, so it’s definitely been a big jump of bravery. Ariel is fun, energetic, and curious. I would love to be as brave in my life as she is….to take the chances that she does. So I hope that as I continue to play her, that I bring those characteristics into my own life.”
Underneath all the glittering costumes, bubbly sets and fun music is a story about self-discovery Huey adds, not just for the little mermaid she plays, but also for the characters Prince Eric, King Triton and Sebastian. They’ve put their own hearts and personalities into the show, drawing on their own real-life experiences.
Steven Blanchard, for example, has three daughters of his own and can relate to the heartache of letting a little girl go on her own journey of life.
“It is a relationship I’m sure every single parent can relate to in some way,” Blanchard said. “If you’re a helicopter parent, and you have a wild child who only wants to go exploring and go where she is not supposed to go, you can definitely relate. It’s a great lesson to let your kids be who they are, let your kids discover their own path, and not try to hold them down or put them in a box. Let them paint outside the lines.”
Blanchard has a long history with playing Disney characters. He was recently cast as Joseph Pulitzer on the national tour of Newsies and he also played the Beast in Beauty and The Beast for eight years on Broadway, in addition to a run as Gaston in 1997. His wife Meredith Inglesby stared as Carlotta and understudied for Ursula when The Little Mermaid first opened on Broadway in New York.
After The Little Mermaid closed in 2009, the creatives reworked the musical by cutting out some songs and scenes as well as wrote in new music. Blanchard said they made it more about a story of a father and a daughter.
“They really changed it for the better,” Blanchard said. “It’s much more story-driven I think, which is the essence of any show you go see. The pretty music and costumes are just the icing on the cake. It’s all about the story. So in that sense it’s really a much better show.”
Melvin Abston, who plays Sebastian, also feels that there is a huge heart beneath the surface of this musical, which isn’t all about the singing and dancing. In his role he focuses on his friendship with Ariel and Triton.
“The response to this show has been incredible,” he said. “Everyone loves it. There is something truly magical about tapping in on childhood memories. The kids get to see the show, but the parents saw it as kids, and the grandparents remember their children seeing it as kids, so it becomes multi-generational.”
Even though Abston, Blanchard, and Huey affirm that you’ll get to enjoy all those beloved moments you saw as a kid on screen, don’t expect to see the exact same thing on stage. There are some surprises too.
“Abston encourages everyone to come out: “You know the story, come and see a new telling of the tale.”