Q&A: Under the Sea with Bety Le

Photo Credit: Broadway San Jose

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Stage performer Bety Le grew up in San Jose, as a child she was part of the Children’s Musical Theater and eventually attended Westmont High School. Although her pursuits of theater took a backseat to synchronized swimming, (as part of the Santa Clara Aquamaids), the theater bug eventually came back in high school, and from there set her on the course to the stage. As she returns to the Bay Area with the production of “The Little Mermaid”, she shares with us a bit of her history in the arts, and what exactly her role, as the “Ariel double”, entails.

Thanks for the interview Bety. Could you first tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved in the arts?

So, when I was young, my mom let me audition for Saturday Children’s Musical Theater and I did a few shows with them, the last show I did I was 8, still pretty young, it was a production of Aladdin and I played Jasmin and then I stopped and I dove, no pun intended, into synchronized swimming. That was my main focus for most of my time living in San Jose, from my childhood into my teen years. Then after, halfway into high school I became really interested in performing again and acting so I joined the drama club and took the drama classes and when I graduated from high school (I went to school in Westmont, in Campbell) I wanted to go to just an art school. So I only applied to 5 conservatories. It was really a big leap of faith to just apply to conservatories. Juilliard, CalArts, Boston Conservatory (among others). CalArts was my number one choice, and I got it! It’s an experimental theater school, not a musical theater school at all, very Avant- garde. But, after graduating from CalArts I found that musical theater was what I kept booking. I think my background in swimming and synchronized swimming helped out with choreography and fluidity and movement and so that’s how I got into musical theater. My first show was The King and I, which I did at Sunnyvale Community Center when I was little so that was a really nice little full circle moment.

Tell me a bit about how you became involved in the Little Mermaid. Did it help coming from a swimming background?

For this one I had to make it look like I was swimming, but I’m flying, and I know what it feels like to swim in the water and the tension and the pressure and all the nuances of being underwater so to mimic that in the air came really easily for me. How I got the role was that in Cathy Rigby’s “Peter Pan” the director was Glenn Casale, who is also the director of “The Little Mermaid”. This company has been on the tour since last November. It was a different producing theater house. In May, the tour went on again however it was two different producing theaters that took it over so a handful of the cast members chose to not continue on with the tour. So, the girl that played the Ariel double before me chose not to go on with the tour and when that happened “The Little Mermaid” got a hold of me and asked if I was available. I had worked with Glenn before, I knew the Stage Manager and I knew the Company Manager, so the only people that hadn’t seen me work before were the Musical Director and the Choreographer. So they just asked me to send in a clip of myself singing and a quick dance clip of me. Then, they offered me the part.

I only know The Little Mermaid from the cartoon, from childhood, I’d never seen the musical, I’d never heard any of the new music, didn’t even know what the Ariel Double meant. So the girl that played her before me, we connected via Facebook and got on the phone and she was phenomenal. She went through my entire track, let me know exactly what I was doing, and it was really exciting. It all happened so quickly.

They reached me in mid-April, and I left to shoot a quick episode of “Claws” and during my time there in New Orleans I found out I officially booked it and they sent me the contract. By the end of May, I flew up to Kansas City to learn the show, in less than a week before we opened.

Tell me about the role? What is an “Ariel double”?

So the Ariel double, I do a lot of the flying for Ariel. Diana Huey, who plays Ariel, does all the acting and the singing, there are moments when she is unable to fly only because she very quickly after has to be on stage and be standing on land or whatever the case may be. So as her double I take over. In the very opening of the show and you see Ariel swimming and exploring, that’s me.

So, on top of being the Ariel double I am in the ensemble so I dance in “Under the Sea”, sing and am also one of the maids. What’s interesting is that as the Ariel double you don’t really see my face, there’s a scrim (lightweight and translucent material used to diffuse light and mask actors). But, I’m proud of the work I get to do in the show. I feel like the little girl that’s always wanted to be a mermaid, because I did synchronized swimming, so I get to be Ariel without the pressure of being Ariel.

Do you have a favorite scene or moment in the show?

My favorite scene or moment in the show that I am a part of is definitely “Under the Sea”, and I wish that I could see it, but I hear it, it’s fantastic, but doing it is fun.

All the flights that are in the show have names. My favorite flight is called “Fins to Feet” and that’s when Ariel turns into a mermaid. I just think the choreography works so well, Paul Rubin created the flight pattern for it. His work as a flight choreographer is beautiful.

What would you say are the differences or aspects that make the Broadway version unique?

You get to know Ursula, her backstory, more and why it is she has a vendetta against Ariel and Triton. And she has a couple numbers, her big number is “Poor, Unfortunate Soul” but there’s another song called “Daddy’s Little Angels” and that really explains to the audience and tells why Ursula is the way she is. I think it’s really interesting. Like I said I didn’t hear the song until we had our first sing through when the rest of the cast showed up, after the newcomers like myself learned the show with the Associate Choreographer, Robbie Roby. What everyone loves about the Disney is the music. Sebastian is definitely an audience favorite and eh just definitely brings “Under the Sea” alive. In the movie, you see how much Sebastian cares about Ariel, and her well-being.

What would be some reasons, besides the great ones you’ve mentioned, for folks to go catch this production of The Little Mermaid?

I think now for people that are my age we grew up with “The Little Mermaid”, we watched it as a movie and we’ll always have that and people who have kids can come and share that story with their kids, it’s such a fun and beautiful story about love and independence, and about finding your home. There’s a line in the show that Ariel says, “what if home isn’t the place you were born but a place that you need to seek and find for yourself?” And I love that. It’s really beautiful, and I think the story is a beautiful story. It’s magical, and it’s under the sea, and people fly!

And before we end the interview, Le drops a Broadway bombshell.

A funny fact is that I’m afraid of heights. In the show, I fly just under 30 feet on the highest. So the first time they ever flew me, my palms were sweating, profusely. When they got me all the way to the top they’re like, “alright just so you feel it out.” and no one knew this about me, I was just going to be professional. When I got to the top, I think my face looked so calm but my head I was like, “I’m not going to be able to do this!”, but I got over it pretty quickly, now it’s just fun.

See Bety Le and the rest of the under the sea cast at “The Little Mermaid”, running from September 26 – October 1, 2017 at Broadway San Jose. Tickets available at ticketmaster.com and broadwaysanjose. com.

Arts & CultureFeatured