BROADWAY’S STEVE BLANCHARD IS HAPPY AS A CLAM TO BE UNDER THE SEA FOR ANOTHER VOYAGE WITH ‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’
“The Little Mermaid” visits the Fox Theatre for five shows Jan. 12-15. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.
UNLIKE DISNEY’S Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King — both Broadway cash cows — the original version of The Little Mermaid did not get splash-worthy reviews when it opened in 2008.
For starters, the sea creatures simulated being underwater by moving around on “merblades,” or Heelys roller shoes.
The show closed after 20 months and 685 performances, but Disney Theatricals didn’t give up on its tale of a headstrong mermaid who falls in love with a human and yearns to live on land. (The show is based on the 1989 Disney animated film, which is, in turn, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale.)
Director Glenn Casale was hired to reshape Mermaid. He threw some songs out, put new ones in and tightened the storytelling. He tossed out the roller shoes for everyone but the eels. Ariel and most of her fish mates are now attached to wires that swish and swoop across and above the stage to create an underwater illusion.
“At one point, I had a harness that dug into my diaphragm, which made it harder to sing,” says Broadway’s Steve Blanchard, who plays King Triton, Ariel’s father. “That was tough, but now I have a much better harness not pushing into my ribs.”
This is Blanchard’s second national tour as Triton, but the father of three knows Disney well. He played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast (in Toronto, on Broadway from 1999 to 2007, and then on tour) as well as the beefcakey, oblivious Gaston.
Blanchard, 58, agreed to dry-dock and chat while the Beast company caught its breath in Seattle.
Question: Do your Mermaid castmates really call you King Daddy?
Answer: Yes. On the first day of rehearsal, I established that. As a senior member of the company, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to help and guide others. They can come to me with anything on their minds.
Q: Glenn Casale is known as a director who injects high energy into a show and allows actors a certain amount of freedom. What do you most admire about his Little Mermaid direction?
A: He’s a breath of fresh air in the musical theater world. He is a stickler about realism. Whatever you are doing, he insists that you make it real. He told the prince and sailors not to pretend to be doing something on the boat, that they each needed a definite purpose, reason and action. I absolutely love that and wish we had more of it.
Q: Can you imagine playing King Triton for 3,000 (give or take) performances — for as long as you played the Beast?
A: Beast was the most amazing experience of my 37-year career. I was still discovering new layers in year 8. It is the perfect show, so well-written. With the changes done to this show, I get the same feeling. I discovered that the Beast was like an onion, with so many layers. The longer you do a role, you can build it layer by layer and that’s what I like, to make every character that much richer. I don’t know how people only play a role for six months. You haven’t even scratched the surface.
Q: What does the Beast have in common with Triton?
A: They are both trapped, or locked, in a world that they have taken for granted and think will always exist. They both undergo real growth and change. Although Triton is not onstage as much as Beast, the arc of Triton is still very strong because he’s the catalyst for Ariel to discover herself. She’s also his catalyst because she changes him — his view of the world and his prejudice toward humans. She draws him out of his shell. It’s a wonderful arc for an actor to play.
Q: When Mermaid was reworked, did the role of King Triton improve?
A: This version of the show emphasizes the father-daughter relationship in a way that was not there before. Fathers who have had to let a daughter go for whatever reason can relate. In fact, I know they’re getting lumps in their throats. I’ve seen fathers with tears streaming down their faces.
Q: Do you have a dream role you still want to play?
A: Besides being a series regular on a TV series shot in New York? I want to do Sweeney Todd one day. That was my Hamilton, my Rent, my Spring Awakening that I saw as a college student in 1979. I realized that dark, gritty, passionate theater is what I wanted to do.
Q: Any advice for someone who wants a stage career?
A: Don’t be afraid to just be, nothing more. But you have to want it more than anything or get out. Because someone else wants it more than you.