“The Little Mermaid Live!” gave a whole new meaning to “Part of Your World.” A hybrid spectacle, the ABC musical special merged the animated Disney classic with live productions of the film’s famous songs, creating an immersive experience for fans at home and in the theater. And production designer Misty Buckley knew she could not turn down this one-of-a-kind opportunity.
“When they asked me to do it, it was just a no-brainer,” she told Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “It was just such an incredible invitation to do something to take something so narrative-based and so beautiful and whimsical, so it was a really exciting invitation.”
“The Little Mermaid Live!” was the first live narrative TV musical for Buckley, who has designed concert sets for the likes of Coldplay (including its Super Bowl halftime show), U2, Kacey Musgraves and Ariana Grande, and events such as the Glastonbury Festival and the 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony. While the entirety of “Little Mermaid” was obviously a huge undertaking, Buckley says the team’s biggest concern was perfecting the transitions from film to live and vice versa.
“That was our main issue: How do we make that feel seamless? How do we make it feel part of the magical story we wanted to tell? So we looked at those transitions very early on and how we could get them to flow,” she explained. “So the moment when the fish was thrown over the side of the ship and you move into the film, that was a really lovely moment, so we just tried to get those details and really thought about how we’re going to execute those details.”
Buckely utilized LED screens to help add depth to the stage, which included a wavy runway, along with scaling the size of objects featured on stage or suspended in the air, such as all the thingamabobs Ariel (Auli’i Cravalho) has collected during “Part of Your World.”
And then there were the puppets. Buckley crafted the stage to accommodate all the puppeteers who had to quickly move in and out through the musical numbers. “We designed the stage like a giant modular rock, and it had to do everything. It had to have to house loads of puppeteers, it had to have special effects come out of it, it had to be able to be much bigger and produce right down to small intimate moments, and it had to turn around become a giant French oven instead of stairs,” she said. “There was a lot of making puzzles and making things fit. We did a lot of model-making and figuring out how we’re going to get people in, but then they have to exit the right moment. That was definitely a real challenge. The puppeteers are so professional and so used to doing what they do, they knew exactly the amount of space they would need, it was really incredible to work with them.”
And yes, she would definitely do this all over again. “My favorite Disney movie is ‘Moana.’ I don’t know how you’d do it live,” Buckley shared. “But that would be a good one.”
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