Jodi Benson: Expect tunes from under the sea to Broadway
Jodi Benson will perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater on Jan. 26.
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“That song,” Jodi Benson said the other day over the phone from her home in North Georgia, “that song gave me the keys to the kingdom.”
No, not “Part of Your World,” the “I Want” number that launches the viewer’s love affair with Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” Benson’s reference is to “Disneyland,” her solo from “Smile,” the vehicle for her first featured role on Broadway, which brought her to the attention of the show’s lyricist, Howard Ashman, who engineered the fateful audition with Disney.
“Back then they weren’t looking the way they do now,” Benson said. “Stars and personalities and celebrities weren’t part of the equation. They just wanted to find the right voice for the character. They didn’t look at your bio, they didn’t look at your head shot. They just listened to your reel-to-reel tape.
“About a year later I got the call that it was down to me and one other actress, and I’d completely forgotten what it was for.”
It was for the role of her lifetime, Ariel, first in the line of Disney’s post-“Sleeping Beauty” heroines. “Someday My Prince Will Come”? As if! Ariel, Belle, Mulan, Anna and Elsa, Moana and the rest are not the type to sit and dream and wait.
On the Maui Pops Orchestra’s program Jan. 26 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater, Benson sings Ashman’s lyrics from “Smile” (music by Marvin Hamlish) and “Mermaid” (music by Alan Menken), plus a generous assortment of less predictable yet choice bonbons.
Not to give away the candy store, let’s just toss out some teasers. For openers, there’s a breakout number that helped skyrocket the 21-year-old Barbra Streisand to the big time. Later on, listen for a Gershwin standard penned for the original Mrs. Anna of “The King and I,” Judy Garland’s signature tune, a Sondheim show-stopper and a whole lot more.
“I don’t pick the songs,” Benson said. “We give the producer and the maestro a long, long list, and they put together what they think their audience would like to hear. Sometimes they choose songs I haven’t done in a long, long time, even some I’ve never done before. I love when that happens. It keeps me on my toes.”
At the MACC, listen for two such novelties, one from “Guys and Dolls,” one from “A Chorus Line.” These are songs for ladies with some mileage and the bent fenders to show for it. In short, not part of what you’d picture as Ariel’s world.
Speaking of Ariel’s world, one song a twisted fan we know fantasizes about is the bossy comedy number with which the sea witch Ursula takes possession of Ariel’s voice in exchange for a pair of human legs.
“No,” Benson said, “that’s one I’ve never done. Mostly I sing all the princess songs, the hopeful songs. ‘Poor, Unfortunate Souls’! That would be a lot of fun someday.”