A year after sending in a recording of her singing voice for an audition for a Disney movie, Jodi Benson received a call saying her tape was selected. This call led to her becoming the voice of Disney princess Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.”
Benson will bring her voice to the stage of The State Theatre on Sunday for two performances, one at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., which will include bits from both Broadway and Disney.
Benson began singing when she was just five years old and was eight when she knew singing and performing was what she wanted to do for a living.
“I kind of feel for me, God had given specific gifts,” Benson said. “To communicate with song, dancing and acting –– a wonderful package of gifts that I felt like that was what I was created to do.”
At the end of the run of the Broadway show “Smile,” of which she was a cast member, she said the director who was working with the Disney Company invited all of the girls in the cast to audition for “The Little Mermaid.” She said they didn’t see their names or faces, just heard their voices. Her tape was selected, something she called “a wonderful miracle.”
“I had never done voiceovers before,” she said. “I approached it like it was a Broadway show, with a script, got involved with the characters. You have to translate everything through voice rather than physical body.”
She said the hardest part of working with only voice is getting emotions across through a microphone. But, now she has had more practice. Apart from “The Little Mermaid,” she has also done voice work in “Thumbelina” and “Toy Story 3.”
“It’s wonderful, intricate work to communicate everything through voice, wonderfully challenging,” she said. “It is different. They’re both rewarding, both very different.”
It’s no easy task to be a princess, especially when she is recognized when doing events at the Disney theme parks.
“It is a great responsibility when people come up, especially children, and look at my feet and wonder where my fins are,” she said. “These characters mean a lot to the children. I take it very seriously.”
Last month, The State Theatre held auditions for children between the ages of six and 18 for two choirs that will accompany Benson during parts of her performance. Over 100 children were chosen, 60 in each chorus, and have rehearsed twice leading up to the performance. Their last rehearsal will take place on Saturday — with Benson herself.
Executive Director of The State Theatre Richard Biever said it was not difficult to get the kids excited about their performance.
“They are just beside themselves,” he said, calling the experience “self-fulfilling.”
The first act of the show will incorporate hit showtunes. The show will begin with “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” which Benson will sing with the choir. The second half will include everybody’s favorite Disney songs. It will open again with the chorus and Benson singing “Circle of Life,” a classic from “The Lion King.”
Also, included in this list is, of course, “Part of Your World,” sung by Ariel herself.
“There’s all the Disney stuff that she’s going to do, plus ‘Part of Your World,’” Biever said. “Hearing her sing it live on stage is kind of exciting.”
The performance will not be entirely Benson performing, however. In the first act, there will also be a tap number from Sarah Mason and her company at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts , located in Pottersville.
“I love, love what The State Theatre is doing,” said Mason, Pennsylania Academy of the Arts artistic director. “I am absolutely thrilled that [Biever] took a concert that could potentially be a very simple, very ordinary concert that people did or didn’t have time for.”
Mason said that Biever gave the performance a “community” aspect, giving children the opportunity to become a “huge star.”
Mason and her company, ranging from ages 12 to 18, will be tapping to “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” She said her dancers are “pretty jazzed” about being able to be a part of this performance.
In addition to the tap number, there will be a duet between Benson and current musical theater student Greg Lamontagne , who will perform “A Whole New World.”
Benson said she is excited for the performance, and grateful for the experiences she’s been given, calling it “quite magical.”
She hopes there are people in the audiences who are touched by the event. She also looks forward to the opportunity to gather as a community and “share some really great music.”
“I’m looking forward to being in State College meeting the students and the children’s choir,” Benson said. “I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun.”
To email reporter: email@example.com