Call Answered: Jodi Benson: "The Little Mermaid" + The New York Pops' 35th Birthday Gala: "Part Of His World: The Songs Of Alan Menken"
Jodi Benson Interview Excerpt...Full Interview Below
"Look at this interview. Isn't it neat? I got to chat with Jodi Benson, how sweet." I went "Under The Sea" to "The Fathoms Below" to be part of Jodi Benson's world for this very special interview. I asked her my questions and got some answers.
Jodi is getting ready to celebrate the songs of Alan Menken at The New York Pops' 35th Birthday Gala on April 30 along with Michael Arden, Roger Bart, Ashley Brown, Nick Cordero, Susan Egan, Harvey Fierstein, James Monroe Iglehart, Adam Jacobs, Judy Kuhn, Patina Miller & many more.
Jodi & I went to the depths of the ocean floor to talk about this upcoming celebration, Alan's music, the making of The Little Mermaid, voicing "Ariel," the film's legacy, and what would it be like if The Little Mermaid was made today.
So, flip your fins, get your gadgets and gizmos aplenty, your whozits and whatzits galore, maybe some thingamabobs and come to the shores up above for treasures untold by "Ariel" herself, the one, the only Jodi Benson!
The New York Pops 35th Birthday Gala: Part Of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken will take place on April 30 at Carnegie Hall at 7pm (57th Street & 7th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. On April 30, you will be performing at The New York Pops' 35th Birthday Gala celebrating the music of Alan Menken. What are you looking forward to most about this evening? I have never sung at Carnegie Hall before, so with this concert, I will be making my Carnegie Hall debut, which has been a “bucket list” item for me since I was a little girl. I'm also excited to sing there because of the venue's rich history & what it means to me as an artist to perform there. Plus, all the years living in New York City on 57th Street, walking by there, looking up at it, and wondering "Hmmm, I wonder if I'll ever have an chance to sing there?" So, I'm excited to have the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.
Of course honoring Alan & the memory of Howard Ashman singing my song is always a thrill.
2. The evening is entitled Part of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken. What is something you can tell us about being part of Alan's world during the making of The Little Mermaid that we might not know? I think the best and most fondest memories I have are of Alan and Howard together presenting the movie to us all , which was Alan at the piano and Howard singing every role in the movie presenting to the Disney executives and the entire cast. That is something so precious- presenting the music by the lyricist and composer. It's just so unique. They are such an amazing team together. They knew how to create the whole film for us and I think being able to see it through their eyes as they presented the music and then turning around and recording it was just so incredible. Seeing Alan and how much he appreciated Howard, Howard was so vital for him being part of the Disney family because Howard was hired first, so he of course brought his partner with him and Alan is forever grateful for that. I think what's so precious is to see Alan, even now today, continually giving thanks and being so grateful for Howard and the brilliance of him. Alan's an incredible man. He's very humble and grateful. Alan knows it's thanks to Howard. Anytime he's performing, he has that on his heart and mind all the time.
I think being able to watch them present The Little Mermaid before Howard got sick are just really fond memories of really great days in the studio and them together as a creative team. To see them in their prime without any clue as to what was about to happen during Beauty and The Beast and then Howard passing during Aladdin. I would say, for me, none of us had any idea those were such precious days that were never going to happen again. Just precious, precious memories.
3. What excites you about getting to sing with Steven Reineke again and now having The New York Pops behind you? I have performed with Steven before, but never with The New York Pops, so that's going to be really exciting! Steven's brilliant, amazing, heartwarming, genuine, and incredibly talented. Working with him will be very comfortable for me . He knows the song backwards and forwards, so I know we are in good hands there. I have to say it's going to be really incredible to hear The New York Pops play our chart.
4. Why do think Alan's music is so timeless? For me, it's the element of Alan & Howard mixed together, but I know Alan has had other lyricists since Howard's passing. What makes Alan's music so timeless is his passion for writing music. His brilliant creativity. The fact that he has to write it and it needs to come out. It's not like here's the script, oh here comes the song now, insert song here, it just doesn't work like that for him. He and Howard were incredible with that. Howard would always say, "We're not stopping for a song now. This is not a song. This is a monologue. Approach it as an actor presenting a monologue. It just happens to have pitches to it. I don't care about the pitches. They don't have to be perfect. I don't want you to start singing now." It was just brilliant the way he did that. With Alan's music, that's him saying, just don't break into song here, it has to come with a sense of reality.
Alan's music is timeless, personally for me, because it is heartfelt & it's connected to carrying the story on in that moment where you run out of things to say with dialogue and you just have to start singing. It's that same element that works so well on the Broadway stage that Howard & Alan brought to Disney/feature animation. He has this ability to make the character just have to explode into song and that makes it authentic, very real, & memorable. There's nobody else like him.
5. What's the difference between recording for an animation film and performing live? How did you adjust to that? It was a tricky adjustment for me because I had never been behind a microphone before, but I had Howard & Alan with me. Of course we had our directors Ron & John, but the element of combining a Broadway musical with an animated feature film was really new to them. So they let Howard & Alan “run the ship” when it came to me because that's my background. I was doing Broadway, that was my thing. But I would constantly over sing and project too much. It's very, very different. It's a whole lot less: less diction, less perfection, not hitting the notes perfectly, not fully singing them, less vibrato, just speaking it and then build it. For me, being a powerhouse type of belter, I had to tone it all down behind the microphone. That was a big adjustment for me, but the guys helped me get the job done.
6. What did you relate to most about "Ariel" and what was one characteristic of hers you were glad you yourself didn't possess? I can completely relate to "Ariel." She is very much like me. She is strong-headed. She is willful. She is tenacious. She is stubborn. She was a tad bit disrespectful to her dad, which I can't really relate to because my dad left when I was 11. But I certainly would watch my words if I were talking to my mom the way "Ariel" spoke to her dad sometimes. I would probably be more gentle. I wouldn't be as sassy. That would probably be the one area I can’t relate to her on, but everything else, "Ariel" & I can definitely relate to one another.
7. What do you think the legacy of The Little Mermaid will be? It's unfathomable what this movie, the music, the character of "Ariel" has meant to fans. Over the 32 years since the movies' release, I have heard so many wonderful stories. When I sing "Part of Your World," I have to sing it like I did when I recorded it -every time- because it evokes such powerful memories for people. I want people to be able to close their eyes and go back to the very first time they heard this song. When the symphony plays the first measure of the song, I always see myself standing in the studio, the lights turned down, Howard's standing to my left, Alan's behind the glass. I can see everybody. I immediately go back to my recording day. That's the power of a memory connected to music. That's the power music has over us. Sometimes the memories are not good, but sometimes they are fantastic.
That's why people cry when they meet me because they are not meeting me, Jodi. They are meeting the memory. The song can trigger something in them that is so powerful and I always lean in and whisper in their ear, "What's going on sweetie?" They will say something like, "Well that's the day that...or You're the one that let me come out to my parents to whom I really was inside." I have met several kids or parent's completely fall apart when they meet me. I will say, "Well, tell me your story." Some people have told me their child was completely autistic and they learned to speak because of this movie, because "Ariel" lost her voice. Paraplegics, quadriplegics relate to the film because "Ariel" can't walk as a mermaid. It's unbelievable the connection people have to this film. This movie is going to live long past me.
8. If The Little Mermaid were to get re-made today, how would you want to play "Ariel"? That's a really good question. A really good question. I think for me personally, my heart is to convey what the director's vision is in every area. I'm a piece of the puzzle & my most comfortable spot to sit in is being the piece of the puzzle that finishes the vision of the team. It's not that I don't have my own vision, but I feel unless I'm the executive producer, director, writer - my job is most fulfilled when I'm completing the vision of the team around me. When I go into a project I always ask, "What's the director's vision? What's the composer's vision?" because I kind of sit under their view, their concept.
So, if there were going to be a re-make of The Little Mermaid, I would jump in and say, "What do you want me to do?"
More on Jodi:
Jodi Benson is honored and blessed to be a recipient of The Disney Legends Award having served the company for over 27 amazing years. Jodi has received worldwide recognition and critical acclaim as the beloved, original voice of "Ariel" in the Academy Award®- winning Walt Disney Pictures animated feature film The Little Mermaid, and continues to bring life to "Ariel" as well as the bubbly voice of “Barbie” in Disney/Pixar’s Best Picture Golden Globe winner Toy Story 2 and Academy Award winner Toy Story 3. She also gave voice to the spirited “Weebo” in Disney’s live action Flubber, starring Robin Williams. For Warner Bros., she created the vibrant voice of “Thumbelina,” a Don Bluth animated feature with songs by Barry Manilow. Jodi's other projects include Tinkerbell: Secret of the Wings, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure (voice of "Lady"), 101 Dalmatians II Patch’s London Adventure ("Anita"), Balto: Wolf Quest ("Jenna"), and Balto III: Wings of Change. She appeared as Patrick Dempsey’s assistant "Sam," in Disney’s live-action feature film Enchanted––as a real person with legs! Jodi will be featured as "Ariel" in the upcoming Wreck it Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet released in March 2019.