Photo credit: ABC/Eric McCandless.
On Tuesday, ABC dives headfirst into the live musical category with its first venture, The Wonderful World of Disney Presents The Little Mermaid Live! With a star-studded cast featuring Auliʻi Cravalho as Princess Ariel, Queen Latifah, Shaggy, John Stamos and Graham Phillips, the TV special is taking a different approach than the traditional animated classic or the Broadway show — it's a hybrid between the two formats.
For choreographers Nick Florez and RJ Durell, this project is a dream of a lifetime. It was some of their signature aerial work that brought them to this project.
"We had been wanting to do a live musical for a while and we were actually in Europe working with P!nk, where she was doing her stadium tour," Durell explained to Dance Network. "We heard from the producers that they were interested in bringing us in for this project and we were super excited. It utilizes a lot of our skill set from live spectacle to aerial choreography and all different aspects of what we've done."
The hybrid concept inspired them choreographically because it presented them with incredible challenges and opportunities. Viewers can expect to see some of their aerial work above and below the sea that should bring a fresh perspective to the musical.
"Choreographically, what is exciting, is that we get to focus on the big spectacle and musical elements of the movie," said Florez. "I think the challenge in that is these songs and these scenes in the film itself are so iconic that we had to think… what can we do to breathe new life into it and make sure that it's fresh, make sure that it stays true to the original and make fans happy? We also had to capture the spirit of Disney and the essence of the original celebrity hired to play the part. It's a tall order."
"How do you choreograph somebody to look like a fish? We had to get creative because there's no gravity and you have to factor in the costume," laughed Durell. "I would say it was a challenge, but also something inspiring and thrilling because we like to apply ourselves in different ways."
What's thrilling about their cast of dancers is the age range — the youngest is 10 years old and the oldest is 71 years old. That 71-year-old just happens to be Durell's mother, Lynda, and she is having the time of her life rehearsing the show.
"My mother was my dance teacher growing up and she had a studio in Michigan. She gave me the gift of dance and the love of it," shared Durell. "When we were casting, one of the points brought up was how we wanted to show diversity, not just in ethnicity, but also in body type, age and in all different ways. I told my mom, 'Pack your bags, you're coming to LA!' It's been such an awesome experience to be able to give that gift back."
"Once a dancer, always a dancer... that's what's so awesome about Lynda is that she is our oldest cast member and she's become the mascot of all the dancers," said Florez. "The cast loves her. She's proof that once you have a dancer's heart, you always have it. No matter what the age there is that universal message of how strong and powerful dance is in connecting us all."
Besides Durell's mom, dance fans should recognize some familiar faces from So You Think You Can Dance alums Melanie Moore, Kayla Radomski, Alex Wong and Jason Glover to former Dancing With the Stars troupe member Britt Stewart and Disney Channel star Gabe De Guzman. Florez is proud that many of the dancers took on the challenges of singing when they accepted their role in The Little Mermaid Live!
"They're all being utilized as singers. So there are dancers, who are more lead singers like Melanie Moore, who is one of the daughters of Triton, but then all of our other dancers are being asked to sing as well," Florez explained. "In LA it's not as common of an opportunity to get to sing on a lot of television gigs as a dancer. All of our dancers have stepped up to the plate and are both dancing and singing in this production. We just are so proud of them for tackling that."
The duo is also excited for viewers to see a few moments in the show they think are going to be spectacular.
"These are precious babies and it's tough to pick one, but I love 'Fathoms Below' because I love the arrangement that they made and it's such a great modern reimagining of that song. We fleshed it out to a full-length performance and I think it's going to be an awesome kickoff to the show," teased Durell. "And of course, 'Under the Sea.' I just look at the costumes and I smile. I listen to the song and I smile. Then I see the dancers doing the choreography and I smile. I think it's going to be such a joyous moment in the show."
Don’t miss Dance Network’s latest ‘To The Pointe’ episode with ‘So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation’ contestant, Sheaden Gabriel: