Darren Criss co-starred in, and narrated, Disney’s The Little Mermaid in Concert at the Hollywood Bowl on June 3, 4 and 6. He played Prince Eric, the beau of The Little Mermaid herself, Ariel. Criss is an Emmy Award-nominated singer/songwriter who starred on Fox TV’s Glee, on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and was the lyricist for the No. 1 Cast Album Starship. Criss wrote to Billboard about performing at the Bowl with The Little Mermaid, and why it was a “full-circle” experience for him.
Sharing a stage like the Hollywood Bowl with so many of the people that were responsible for inspiring me to be in this business in the first place, and as a result, putting me there on that stage at all — was such an overwhelming full-circle. The original composer, producers, animators, directors, even musicians that recorded the original score, and, of course the voices of Jodi Benson (Ariel) and Chris Daniel Barnes (Prince Eric)… All of them celebrating a little movie musical they made that ended up being so much more than that — not only for guys like me and millions of others around the world, but for the very genre itself. All these folks, commemorating the film with… me! And hanging out, taking pictures backstage! I just couldn’t believe it. The list of pinch-me moments were too many to count.
But I’ll give ya two:
There’s a great story I like to tell about how Alan Menken [the 11-time Grammy Award winner who wrote the music for Aladdin] once walked into a cafe I was playing during my senior year of college. Of course, I spotted him right as I was playing one of his songs. I was somewhere between completely ecstatic and totally mortified. Well, the man ended up putting a one hundred dollar bill in my tip jar, along with giving me the best story ever. So cut to seven years later, I’m singing one of his songs at the Hollywood freakin’ Bowl in front of 17,500 people, and as I walk off stage, there’s Alan, waving a one hundred dollar bill. You gotta be kidding me! I’ll never forget that. Especially the part where I went to take it and he pulled it away, the stinker! Now I have another great Alan Menken story. What can I say, he’s a hit maker.
And lastly, “Part Of Your World” was the first song I ever posted a cover of on YouTube in 2007. That video unexpectedly set me on a wild course that I never could have dreamed would eventually bring me to the side of the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to the original voice of Ariel herself, Disney legend Jodi Benson, performing that same song live before my very damp eyes. Not to mention the fact that while all this is happening, I’m standing next to one of my all-time personal heroes, the man who composed the song, Mr. One-Hundred-Dollar-Bill himself Alan Menken. It was all incredibly emotional. As I listened to Howard Ashman’s beautiful lyrics, it really hit me in that moment that I, too, had always wanted to be “where the people are…” And wow, there they were, Alan Menken and Jodi Benson, “smiling at me.” A real-life, Disney dreams-come-true experience.
— As told to Keith Caulfield