‘Little Mermaid Live!’: Auli’i Cravalho has prepped for Ariel with ‘a lot of ab exercises’

Erin Jensen


Published 8: 10 AM EST Nov 5, 2019

Thirty years ago, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” became “Part of Your World.”

To pay tribute to the animated 1989 feature, ABC will air “The Wonderful World of Disney presents The Little Mermaid Live!” Tuesday (8 EST/delayed PST),  a hybrid musical event that combines the original movie with  live performances of its songs. Ahead of the show, USA TODAY spoke with Auli’i Cravalho, who plays mermaid-who-wants-to-be-human Ariel, the girl with “gadgets and gizmos aplenty” and “whozits and whatzits galore.”

The 18-year-old star, who made her acting debut as the title character in 2016’s “Moana,” spoke to USA TODAY last week from Portland, Oregon, where she’s shooting her next film, “Sorta Like a Rock Star,” and preparing for “Little Mermaid” rehearsals.  

Question: You get to play Ariel! How are you feeling about that?

Auli’l Cravalho: I’m so excited! (screams) About a month ago, I think, I got to try on the wig for the first time, and it was crazy to see myself in the mirror with red hair. Then they put a red kind of dye in my eyebrows. And it made me look like, obviously, a completely different person, but it definitely put me in the headspace of Ariel, and I cannot wait to put on that iconic wig again. 

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Q: What can viewers expect when they tune in?

Cravalho: They can expect the amazing classic songs: “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” And then we also have some amazing songs from the Broadway version of “Little Mermaid,” which I’m really excited to sing because they’re new songs for many of the people, at least for those who are mostly familiar with the animation classic. Those are songs that kind of add some new life to the performance. We have, of course, Queen Latifah (Ursula the sea witch), Shaggy (Sebastian the crab), Graham Phillips (Prince Eric), an amazing cast – John Stamos (Chef Louis) – who are gonna add some really great flavor and new life to these classic characters as well.

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Q: Do you have a favorite song to perform?

Cravalho:  “Part of Your World” is really exciting to me because I get to do some aerial work in that. So Ariel gets to do aerial work, which I think is also the best pun in the World. And I’m really, really excited. I’ve been doing a lot of ab exercises, I’ve been doing a lot of crunches, a lot of planks.  

Q: You mentioned aerials. What other tricks will be used to make it appear that the actors are underwater?

Cravalho:  We have the animation playing for most of the show, except for the live performances. We have a fantastic stage that’s been created to really feel like an underwater kind of extravaganza. There’s wonderful puppeteers (who) are going to be scattered throughout the audience, and the audience will get to participate in the live show, wearing costumes, having props. So all in all, I think it will be a fantastic night for the live viewers and the people at home.

Q: I know there are reports of a “Moana” sequel? Is there anything you can share about that? Have you heard anything about that?

Cravalho:  My lips stay sealed on that, but I’m really excited for whatever Disney’s coming up with.

Q: So, you would be on board for a sequel?

Cravalho:  Yeah, yeah I would.

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Q: Growing up, what were your favorite childhood movies?

Cravalho:  I really loved “Mulan.” I loved “The Little Mermaid.” I suppose I really enjoyed the characters that went above and beyond to try something new and learn more about themselves. And I felt like “Mulan” and “The Little Mermaid” did that for me.

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Q: When you tried out for “Moana,” that’s obviously taking a risk and trying to do something beyond your current circumstances.  

Cravalho:  Yes, it was. I was a freshman in high school, and I didn’t think I was going to get into really anything musical. I didn’t think I was gonna get into the industry at all. I grew up in Hawaii. I didn’t think there were any jobs, really, that would come my way. But I was interested in microbiology, and so in kind of a twist of fate, my mom was like, ‘Hey, so maybe you should actually go and try out for this.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m really nervous. I don’t think it will work out, anyway.’ And she was like, ‘Look, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to go for it.’ And, I’m really glad that I followed her advice. 

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