As technology and social media become more advanced, things that we’ve come to know and recognize are also apt to change with the times, and often for the better.
One of those things is the conventional live theater setup. While certain modalities and expectations regarding this will be adhered to when warranted – like putting your phone away and remaining quiet during a show – there is also the flip side when audience members are asked to actively immerse themselves.
Scheduled to run for a very limited engagement between March 15th and 18th at the El Segundo Performing Arts Center in El Segundo, CA, Sound Stage LIVE! is introducing the ultimate in immersive musical theater, by taking the universally loved Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s stories) and modernizing its presentation. With not only live actors, but panoramic “Under the Sea” projections, and the incorporation of cell phones in a way that is conducive to a multisensory and sing-along social experience, the passive theater-goer becomes an engaged participant.
Produced by the sibling duo of Beth and Jeff Cason (the latter has worked on more than 60 SoCal productions), and directed by Karl Warden, who has staged and choreographed a slew of FX shows, this newfangled “Little Mermaid” will begin before the curtain goes up, as YouTube celebrity, “Kinky Boots” performer, singer, and one of Taylor Swift’s best friends, Todrick Hall, will emcee the red-carpeted festivities that begin with interactive games and delightful camaraderie.
Orange County native, Chassey Bennett, who has earned an impressive regional-theater resume for herself since graduating from AMDA in New York with a BFA, with roles in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Rent,” and currently “Frozen — Live” at Disney California Adventure’s Hyperion Theater, will proudly star as the most celebrated mermaid ever, Princess Ariel.
Recently, Bennett provided thoughtful insights to LAexcites about her role as Ariel in the context of a creatively unprecedented production.
What was the audition process like, and how/when did you find out you won the part of Ariel?
Bennett: I had my audition back in December. I was invited just for the callback [for the part of Ariel] as I had not gone to the initial audition, since I already had a working relationship with director Karl Warden due to playing Ariel at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in San Diego (in summer 2017 when Warden was the choreographer). I found out about casting two days later. So, I’m fortunate that it was one of the easier auditions I’ve ever had.
What has the rehearsal process been like for you? Describe your working relationship with Karl Warden and how he compares with other directors you’ve worked with.
Bennett: It has been super-quick. This is my third show with Warden, who is directing the show now, but the choreography is the same as he had it last July. The ensemble learned it before I did, and then I was put into my scenes.
Karl is a joy – all the time. He’s always smiling and laughing, and that’s a great quality in a director. While many directors can be intimidating, he takes all the pressure off. He understands the importance of an actor’s perspective because he’s a performer himself, and yet he has his own directorial vision.
What has been your biggest challenge in getting ready for “The Little Mermaid”? As a result, what is something new you’ve learned about yourself as a performer?
Bennett: Sound Stage LIVE! is doing something new because audiences will have their own phones out, which is interesting because they are usually forbidden in a theater.
It’ll be very different [with regard to vantage point from the stage] for me to see people on their phones, and this could be the biggest challenge I have to overcome. I’m also going to be flying for the first time ever in this production and that will be new for me and something I have to adjust for.
Specifically, how are mobile devices expected to come into play?
Bennett: It’s on an app. You will download it, and the app will take over your phone and your screen will show bubbles, for example, and have different video clips of the characters with segments like Ursula and Ariel’s sisters. During “Kiss the Girl,” phones will join in, play images of reeds and plankton, and randomly select people’s phones [to display the graphics/footage]. Sebastian will also appear, bouncing from phone to phone. The only thing I don’t know is if it’s continuous or only during certain parts of the show.
Overall, I’m hoping the use of mobile devices will draw younger people to the theater. Why not embrace phones and have people use them during the show?
Just for fun, can you name another Disney show and one non-Disney one that you think would also potentially thrive in Sound Stage LIVE!’s interactive format?
Bennett: For a Disney show, I think that “Beauty and the Beast” would be a great second choice, as it’s both a classic Disney movie and show. For a non-Disney show, I think “Legally Blonde” would work really well and be a fun one to do.
Is there a part in the show – or a musical number – that you look forward to performing the most?
Bennett: My favorite thing to do is when I sing “Part of Your World,” but for the audience, the most exciting part is probably “Under the Sea” because of what Karl has staged for the dancers by including vibrant projections and an LED wall experience.
Lastly, is “The Little Mermaid” expected to run for only the four scheduled performances, or is a tour planned down the line?
Bennett: I’ve heard that they want to see how it goes as a trial run since it’s the first time we’re doing an immersive app situation. But they are hoping for a tour. I love playing this role and getting to tell this story and I hope they’ll have me again if that’s the direction they choose to take.
For more information about Sound Stage LIVE!’s “The Little Mermaid” at the El Segundo Performing Arts Center between March 15th and 18th, and to purchase tickets, please visit soundstage.live/tickets