The Voice of a Mermaid

We are currently putting on Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and we wanted to know more about three characters you don’t traditionally see in the musical: Ariel’s Voice.  For that, we asked Rebecca Helmstetter about what the Voices are.

Written by: Rebecca Helmstetter

IMG_9217I love the opportunities for creativity that this role grants us.  Since Figg created the concept of having actors as human embodiments of Ariel’s voice, there is very, very little in the script that limits our characters.  So Figg will often give us just a few parameters, and then ask us to “create”.

I’m also thrilled to work with the Figg’s general idea of presenting the physical and vocal sides of Ariel as so distinct.  In Hans Christian Andersen’s original The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her voice just as she does in the Disney version.  However, in Andersen’s tale, there is a particularly poignant scene in which Ariel dances on the deck of the prince’s ship until her feet begin to bleed, desperately trying to convince her love to pick her over his new wife (yes, he does marry — the ending is not Disney-esque).  There’s a more lighthearted parallel in the musical’s script, but Figg’s choice really drives home that ironic divide between the one thing that could win Eric over — Ariel’s voice — and the desperate physical measures that Ariel enacts in an effort to save herself and her love. Plus it pays homage to the original story, which I love!

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I know a lot of people, including myself, were skeptical about the choice of another Disney musical for this season — in my freshman year, we put on Beauty and the Beast, and last year we performed Shrek the Musical, which also has a lot of fairytale and comic themes.  The cool thing about doing a show that is so completely in the modern American canon, though, is that the story’s prominence allows us the freedom to really play with it, twist it, present it in a new light.  The concept for this show, specifically for the Voices, blurs the line between literal and figurative presentation, as many fairy tales traditionally do. Essentially, there are many layers to this production.

IMG_9221There’s been a lot of flexibility in our rehearsals so far.  We’ve blocked the song “If Only — Quartet” and written in three-part harmonies for Ariel’s part, as she has lost her voice by that point in the show and Ariel’s Voices take over.  Our first rehearsal was blocking “Her Voice”, a wistful Eric solo in which the voices manipulate him as he sings. Recently, we brainstormed together about each of our specific characters as voices.  With the idea of a Greek chorus in mind, we named ourselves after a few of the Muses, patron goddesses of the arts. Specifically, we picked the names Thalia, Clio, and Calliope — muses of comedy, history, and epic poetry, respectively.  The jurisdiction of the muse in particular also played a part in informing our individual backstories. Things are certainly looking good for the rest of rehearsal, and hopefully the show itself!

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