One of the greatest luxuries in life that we can afford ourselves in this country is the event of going to the theater. Going to the theater and watching a performance of some of the most revered classics in the world portrayed live in front of you is something that is wondrous and should be enjoyed at least once in one’s lifetime. I remember watching The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The King and I, Turandot, and other classics at the theater with my family growing up and I came to appreciate how much work went into the production of such a spectacle to entertain the fans. Even as I got older, and eventually obtained my collegiate degree in Theater Arts, I still wanted to enjoy performances at the theater because of the pageantry that is associated with it. And it became even more of a love of mine as Disney started getting into the business of adapting their popular films into theatrical productions. The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin have all been spectacular and marvelous theater shows, just to name a few. And recently, one theater adaptation of a classic Disney animated film that I got to enjoy with my family was Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
However, there was something uniquely different about this production of The Little Mermaid that really separates itself from other theatrical productions – even those of past productions of the same name. This production of The Little Mermaid was produced by Sound Stage LIVE! – and they brought forth a new innovation to the theater that I hope may one day be incorporated into more theatrical productions. What Sound Stage LIVE! managed to do was incorporate modern technology into their production of The Little Mermaid so that the audience was able to utilize their smart phones to become an interactive member of the performance as certain musical queues would activate unique interactions on the viewers smart phone through the use of the Sound Stage LIVE! App (App Store, Google Play). And I think that this is an important innovation in theater performances because this is a good way to bring in younger audience members into these shows that they may otherwise not be interested in.
Now, I’m not talking about incorporating what Sound Stage LIVE! does in every theatrical performance, as I believe that there is some sanctity in the world of theater that should be observed. But, when you get performances of modern theatrical productions on smaller or off-Broadway venues, it may be a nice touch to add modern technology as a welcome addition to these performances. Because of my experiences with taking my young children to previous theater performances and then comparing them to the experience I recently had while taking them to Sound Stage LIVE! presents Disney’s The Little Mermaid – it is completely night in day in comparison. My kids (aged 11, 10, and 9) never protested going to the theater with us (my wife and I), but I could tell that they were never quite comfortable going to the theater the way I was. However, when we went to see more audience interactive performances of local theater and performance groups like Dungeon Master, The Show that Shall Not be Named, Comic Book Live, and others, I noticed that they completely ate up what they were seeing because they felt like they were part of the performance.
And with Sound Stage LIVE! I saw the same kind of awe and wonderment in their eyes as I did when I would take them to see those other performances. It made seeing a theater production interesting for them. It made them feel like they were a part of the show that they never felt at other performances – even if they were only watching interactive props on the screens of their smart phones. With this performance of The Little Mermaid, I saw that my kids, for the first time, really enjoyed themselves at the theater. And if they can sit and enjoy, genuinely enjoy a theatrical production, I am soundly sure that this could be a new and unique way of introducing the art of theater performances to younger audiences. And as great as the performance of The Little Mermaid that Sound Stage LIVE! produced this past week in El Segundo, CA, this innovation in theatrical performance is much more important than many may realize right now.
To touch on that for a bit, the production that Sound Stage LIVE! put on of The Little Mermaid was exceptionally beautiful. Chassey Bennett, who stars as Ariel in this production, was simply astounding in her performance. Her vocal range, her acting, her dancing… they really brought the character of Ariel to life. She was a very likeable and relatable character the way that Chassey Bennett portrayed her. Other members of the cast (and I apologize for not having the full cast list in front of me to give them their proper credit) were also superbly amazing. The characters of Prince Eric and Chef Louis were particularly enjoyable to watch as their performers really brought out all they could from their characters. There was nothing really bland or unenjoyable in the performance as I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, but this production was as beautiful as one could expect from any theatrical performance. My biggest gripe with the show, and it is the same as it was with the initial Broadway performance of The Little Mermaid, are the changes to the story that change certain aspects of the show. I get it, it would be impossible to bring the entirety of the animated film to the stage, but I wish some of the story changes were not so drastic. Still, this is no shot at the performers of Sound Stage LIVE! as I thought they all performed admirably and put on as great a performance as I have ever seen.
Another aspect of Sound Stage LIVE!’s performance of The Little Mermaid that helped draw in the younger audience members feverishly to the show was that YouTube sensation Todrick Hall was the host of the performance and performed a selection of musical numbers before the show to warm up the crowd. I’ll admit that while I am aware who Todrick Hall is, I know very little about him or his YouTube channel. However, my three kids knew who he was, as did a number of the younger audience members in attendance at the performance. And while I may not quite be a huge fan of him after the show, I can see why he is as popular with the younger set as his musical stylings lend themselves directly to what they seem to love. He is energetic, incredibly charismatic, and totally effervescent in his performance, and while I may still not follow him, his addition to the show was a welcome one as it did add to the value and uniqueness of this performance.
Sound Stage LIVE! co-creator’s Jeff Cason (CEO & Creative Producer) and Beth Cason (COO) and Director and Choreographer Karl Warden have created one of the best local productions I have seen in Southern California outside of the normal venues that include the Geffen Playhouse and the Pantages Theater, and they should be applauded and recognized for their new and unique vision in theater arts. What they have managed to produce with Sound Stage LIVE! should be a sign of things to come and I am eagerly waiting to see what next production they have in store that will utilize this blend of theater arts and modern technology. Other companies struggle to blend the classic performing arts with the modern tech that our world has afforded us in the present, but Jeff and Beth Cason have managed to touch on that, blend it perfectly together, and are introducing the theater arts to a new generation of fans. Sound Stage LIVE! may not be right for all classic theater performances, but if what they showed with their production of The Little Mermaid is any indication, this new blend of old and new may be the future of performing arts moving forward.