Ariel, the heroine of Disney’s animated film “The Little Mermaid,” kept Jodi Benson occupied for only 14 days in the recording studio when the Illinois-born singer taped the part for the 1989 blockbuster. But ever since, she has been associated with the character and her song of hope, “Part of Your World.”
Benson, 46, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Everything I’ve been part of has been because of my relationship to the film and my relationship to the company,” she said recently by cell phone. “It’s been a wonderful journey. And it’s still going strong, thank the Lord.”
The role and song that catapulted the ebullient Benson to fame will showed up again when she appeared as a soloist last Saturday in the Cleveland Pops Orchestra’s “Fantasies and Fairytales” program at Severance Hall.
But she has no troubling recalling the circumstances that led to her career boost. Benson was in “Smile,” a Broadway musical about beauty pageants by Howard Ashman and Marvin Hamlisch, when lyricist Ashman invited female cast members to audition for an animated film he and composer Alan Menken were writing based on a beloved Hans Christian Anderson story.
Like her colleagues, Benson submitted a tape. A year later, she won the role of Ariel, never thinking it would amount to much.
“It was just a wonderful experience flying back and forth from New York to Los Angeles,” she said. “I didn’t tell anybody about it. It was a voice-over job. It wasn’t considered a real job.”
The success of “The Little Mermaid” brought Benson mounds of work in animated Disney films. She won a starring role in the Broadway musical “Crazy for You,” for which she received a Tony nomination.
Until she returned to New York last month for the opening of the stage version of “The Little Mermaid” (at the same theater, the Lunt-Fontanne, where she’d done “Smile”), Benson hadn’t seen a Broadway show since the performance of “Crazy for You” the day after she left the cast.
The opening last month of “The Little Mermaid,” which Benson attended with her son and daughter (their first Broadway show), was a “very surreal” experience for the voice of Ariel.
“They’d been talking about this coming to Broadway for 10 years,” said Benson, who has recorded several albums of Christian music. “Everything about the evening was memorable. I’m very thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to be part of this and see it happen, and watch the longevity of that, and know another generation is going to be touched by the story.”