Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, The Little Mermaid, “If Only”
Nikki Renée Daniels, Gavin Creel, Norm Lewis, Jo Lampert
Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” (1837) is the most enduring tale of a water creature and her desire to become human. Variations of the story have been seen in opera (Dvořák’s Rusalka), theater, and ballet. The tale had been adapted for at least seven films prior to the 1989 premiere of the Disney studio’s animated musical.
One of many recent Broadway shows adapted from popular films in recent decades, The Little Mermaid’s reincarnation onstage in 2007 boasted eleven new songs. Disney’s original lyricist, Howard Ashman, had died in 1991, and composer Alan Menken was now working with a new collaborator, Glenn Slater. Their songs included the touching quartet, “If Only.” The female voice here is that of the mermaid Ariel, who has saved Prince Eric’s life when he’s tossed overboard from his ship in a storm. He remembers only her voice but longs to find her. Having fallen in love with Eric, Ariel makes a bargain with her vindictive aunt, Ursula: if she gives up her voice, she can become human for three days, and if she wins Eric’s kiss, she will become human forever. If she fails, she will be in Ursula’s power. Ariel is brought to Eric’s palace, but after two days there is still no kiss. In the quartet, Ariel wishes she could tell Eric everything in her heart; Eric hopes he can find the girl who saved him (not knowing that it was Ariel herself); Ariel’s father Triton, the sea king, wonders where she’s gone; and Triton’s court composer, the crab Sebastian, expresses his concern for Ariel.