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ABC’s ‘The Little Mermaid Live!’ Won’t Actually Be All That Live

TCA 2019: There will be 10 or 11 musical performances weaved in throughout the 1989 cartoon feature

ABC’s “The Little Mermaid Live!” will only be half of a live action musical — the other half will consist of the original 1989 feature, director Hamish Hamilton explained to TV critics Monday.

On the day of the live broadcast, he explained, “We’re gonna invite everybody to come, both televisually and real people, real fans, to our ‘Little Mermaid’ theater –the ‘dive in’ theater — on the Disney lot, a few hundred people. In the middle of the room we’ll have a giant projection surface, and on that projection surface we will play the feature. When we get to one of Alan [Menken] and Howard [Ashman]’s wonderful songs, essentially we will transition beautifully and smoothly into a world of live performance.”

Audiences at home will see the original movie playing on a big projection screen as an on-camera studio audience looks on. But when the cartoon Ariel gets ready to sing “Part of Your World,” Auli’i Cravalho will take over for her live, in full costume. Same goes for “Under the Sea” (cue Shaggy as Sebastian), “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with Queen Latifah as Ursula, and so on for the rest of the musical numbers from the movie — plus some extra songs that were in the Broadway musical. There will be “ten or 11” musical numbers in total, Hamilton says.

Hamilton also clarified that the original movie will not be changed in any way, and that the actors will only perform musical numbers, not the dialogue.

“We’re not going to take too much of a departure from the original,” he added, declining to reveal whether or not Cavalho will wear a red Ariel-esque wig.

The musical numbers will feature intricate sets and costumes, plus “puppetry — yes, puppetry,” ABC president Karey Burke said.  It’s not immediately clear how the puppets will be integrated, but Hamilton presented TV critics with “early renderings” of the set design.

“We may or may not have beautiful jellyfish hanging from the ceiling. We may or may not have beautiful shoals of fish running through the sea as puppeteers,” he said.

Hamilton also clarified that the entire production is being re-scored “so there’s a continuity of musical flow” from the movie to live-action elements, and will include both the original songs from the movie and the Broadway musical written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. It’s not yet clear whether or not there will be a live orchestra to perform the re-worked score. No new songs or characters are being written for the live production.

“The Wonderful World of Disney presents The Little Mermaid Live!” will air November 5 on ABC.