Disney Theatrical Productions President Thomas Schumacher told Playbill.com that the creative team for the musical's pre-Broadway tryout will also include Olivier Award-winning choreographer Stephen Mear, scenic designer George Tsypin, costume designer Tatiana Noginova and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz. Pulitzer and Tony Award winner Doug Wright — of I Am My Own Wife fame — has written the book for the The Little Mermaid, which will feature songs by Alan Menken, Glenn Slater and the late Howard Ashman.
Casting for the production will begin shortly.
About the decision to launch Mermaid at the Denver Center, producer Schumacher says, "We've taken every one of our shows — except Tarzan — out of town, although we had done some out-of-town workshopping on Tarzan. But Beauty [and the Beast] started in Houston, The Lion King started in Minneapolis [and] Aida had two starts — a regional theatre production in Atlanta, after which we did a creative overhaul, and then [we] did our out-of-town tryout of the Broadway version in Chicago. [Mary] Poppins started in Bristol, so we have a long tradition of going out of town.
"You're looking for a lot of things when you go out of town with a show," Schumacher adds. "You're looking for, literally, a city you can get to — that has air service. Ideally, you want a theatre that has a slot available at the right season for you, and then you want a theatre that's fantastically well-equipped. . . . It has to be able to accommodate building new costumes, building new scenery. It has to have a crew that can handle changes, and then you want an audience that's a real theatre-going audience.
"We've had all of our shows in Denver. We launched our national tour of Lion King in Denver, so we have a history with [the city]. . . . Francesca and I talked about a lot of cities, and each has advantages, and then you weigh them against each other. Francesca likes Denver a lot, I like Denver. . . . It's a good audience, smart." Zambello — whose directorial credits include the Bregenz Festival's production of West Side Story, the Metropolitan Opera's staging of Les Troyens and the Disney theme park version of Aladdin — will be making her Broadway debut with Little Mermaid. Schumacher first saw her work when his long-time friend, opera singer Lauren Flanigan, appeared in the San Francisco Opera's production of Prince Igor in 1996.
"It was so fantastically staged," says Schumacher, "[and] at the party afterwards I met [the opera's director] Francesca. Over the years we've kept a dialogue going. I actually asked her to do a workshop for me of [Carnival] that we ultimately didn't produce. . . . We were talking about doing something together, and she said, 'I have an idea, a way into Mermaid that I would like to try.' We had a number of meetings about it, and we just started working on it, and we began to develop the idea together. I had her meet Alan Menken, who, of course, is my partner in crime on this show."
Menken, who penned the film's seven songs with the late lyricist Howard Ashman, has written several new tunes for the stage production of Mermaid. "Some of [the film's songs] were cut back in the movie and shortened," explains Schumacher, "and we expand those songs back out again. In some cases there are some reworking of lyrics done by Glenn Slater because the songs have some tiny new elements in them, and Alan and Glenn together have written a bunch of new songs."
When asked how the stage design will communicate the underwater experience, Schumacher says with a laugh, "Effectively! . . . Our job isn't to reproduce the movie because you can go watch the movie. Our job is to use stagecraft. We're not the first people to have ever told 'The Little Mermaid' story, [but] we're the first people to go to a kind of exotic universe.
"What I can tell you is it's big — physically. It has scale because [scenic designer] George Tsypin works with scale." Tsypin's work was seen on Broadway in the 1993 revival of In the Summer House. He also designed the sets for Julie Taymor's The Magic Flute and worked with director Zambello on her production of West Side Story.
"[Tsypin] was an architect, and he comes at things from a very structural point of view," says Schumacher. "It's a pretty aggressive design sense, which is great. I knew of him through the opera world through Julie [Taymor]. It's his first Broadway musical. It's Francesca's first Broadway show. And, [Tatiana Noginova], who's doing the costumes, it's her first Broadway show. Francesca and I went through a number of costume designers. We looked at a couple of portfolios of different people, and then she showed me Tanya's. And I loved it. Tanya was here working at the [Metropolitan Opera], and she came over and we met, and that's [how she became involved]."
To date, Disney's Broadway offerings include Aida, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Tarzan; the latter three are all still running in New York. Mary Poppins — a co-production between Disney and Cameron Mackintosh — begins previews at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre Oct. 14 with an official opening Nov. 16. Little Mermaid's arrival on Broadway would bring the current Disney count to five.
Single tickets for The Little Mermaid are not yet available. For more information visit the Denver Center for the Performing Arts at www.denvercenter.org.