10:40am PT by Jean Bentley
'Little Mermaid' Live Starring Auli'i Cravalho Set at ABC
ABC has found another live-action Ariel, and she's already a Disney princess: Auli'i Cravalho, aka the voice of Moana, will star in a live concert production of The Little Mermaid set to air on the broadcast network.
Also slated for the production: Queen Latifah as villain Ursula, Shaggy as Ariel's BFF crustacean friend, Sebastian. The live event — which will be reimagined for a live studio audience — will air Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. as part of The Wonderful World of Disney franchise. (Check out a rendering of the ABC special, below.)
In 2017, ABC announced that it was working on a live musical special that would interweave live performances of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's Oscar-winning songs with clips from the 1989 animated film. The Wonderful World of Disney: The Little Mermaid Live was slated to air Oct. 3 of that year, but was later scrapped. The new take boasts the same concept and producers. The hybrid format will feature intricate sets and costumes, with music from the original animated film and Tony-winning Broadway stage version. The latter's lyricist, Glenn Slater, will also contribute to the ABC special. Richard Kraft, who produced and directed the buzzy Hollywood Bowl productions of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast will also exec produce. (Watch a scene from that, below.)
“We are postponing the Little Mermaid Live special. We love the idea of doing a live musical and want to make it wonderful. The project is so unique that we are making best efforts to do it next year and want to give it all the attention it deserves,” an ABC spokesperson said in a statement at the time, though sources told THR at the time that it was a budgetary issue. Sets had already been built, and rehearsals were slated to begin shortly.
NBC has also canceled some of its live musical programming, scrapping both Bye Bye Birdie and Hair. Its live broadcast of A Few Good Men was also pushed from the schedule and its status remains murky at best. The network, under new entertainment presidents Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks, currently has no live event programming planned. Their predecessor at NBC — Bob Greenblatt — was the exec responsible for reviving the live musical genre.
While the live musical genre hit a sour note with the low-rated not-quite-live Rent Live, it is still "meaningful for affiliates, and broadcast networks are affiliate-dependent," an exec told THR in January. "Sometimes you need meaningful, live events — sports, awards shows, musicals — that illustrate broadcast is still relevant."
ABC saw success with its live production of two classic Norman Lear TV episodes, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear's All in the Family and The Jeffersons. The 90-minute special averaged 10.36 million viewers and a 1.7 rating among adults 18-49, double ABC's season average for the time period. That, along with new live takes on police shows, has helped reinvent the genre. ABC on Monday confirmed that the event would become a regular part of its schedule, with a holiday offering and spring 2020 broadcast also in the works.
The new ABC live concert take arrives as parent company Disney is also plotting a live-action musical with singer-actress Halle Bailey set to topline the feature film. Melissa McCarthy, Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina co-star and lend their voices to other live-action and CG parts. Rob Marshall will direct. Production begins in early 2020.