By Mary Ann Bourbeau
ASBURY PARK – The Little Mermen have made such a splash in Asbury Park that the Disney cover band is returning to the House of Independents for another concert on March 15.
This wholesome band performs rock covers of songs from classic Disney movies, such as “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen” and “The Little Mermaid.” But this isn’t strictly a kid’s show. In fact, most of their audience is made up of people who grew up in the ‘90s who still have a fondness for these timeless ballads.
“It’s really powerful seeing the reaction of people who grew up with this music,” said Alexis Babini, a New York City singer/songwriter who came up with the idea. “It’s exciting to bring Disney music to this kind of concert setting.”
The band members dress in costume conforming to the songs. The men can be lions, pirates, Aladdin or Prince Charming, while the women are Ariel the mermaid, Pocahontas, Mulan, Mary Poppins and Elsa from “Frozen.” It’s not unusual for audience members to dress up too.
“When people go to Disneyland or Disney World, they get to experience all the joy they felt when they watched these movies,” said Babini. “We try to capture a little of that.”
Many of the songs are among Disney’s most beloved, including “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas,” “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin” and “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” But the band members have fun throwing in some lesser-known favorites, such as “Ugly Bug Ball” from the 1963 film “Summer Magic.”
“People ask me if I ever get tired of playing these songs, and the answer is no,” said Babini. “I love arranging these songs for the band. We just started playing ‘Gaston’ from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and when the chorus kicks in, it turns into a ska song with a reggae vibe. It’s a really fun song to do.”
Babini, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, has performed on tour with many different artists, including Blues Traveler, Boz Scaggs, The Verve Pipe, Sister Hazel and Cody Simpson. Whenever he threw in a cover of “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King,” the crowd would go wild.
“I thought it would be fun to put together a rock band and do a whole show of Disney songs,” he said. “We’ve been in touch with the (Walt) Disney Company and they gave us their blessing. So far they’ve been really cool and supportive.”
Babini, 32, fronts The Little Mermen on vocals, guitar and ukulele. The band members are all professional musicians with various commitments, so the lineup is subject to change. Performing at the House of Independents will be Emily Afton and Chelsea Zeno on vocals, Derek Bishop on vocals and keyboards, Alex Minier on bass and Cody Rahn on drums. Afton is known for her role in the Broadway cast of “Amélie” and she and Zeno were both in the national tour of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” Bishop is a singer songwriter, Rahn is a jazz percussionist and Minier also performs with the bands Echo Bloom and Woolsucker.
“We have a pool of really talented people,” said Babini.
For the last few years, The Little Mermen have been touring the country, playing in clubs, concert halls and at music festivals. “I really loved playing The House of Blues in Anaheim,” he said. “That’s the heart of Disney zeitgeist. We’ve played both parks in the past year and it’s so much fun. It’s just pure joy.”
They performed on an Over the Sea boat cruise around the Statue of Liberty and at a venue in Indianapolis that had a snow machine, making the songs from “Frozen” even more magical.
“We’ll take the band anywhere,” said Babini. “We’ll do 11 a.m. shows for children and then play later in the bars. It’s cool to experiment with different formats.”
A young child approached Babini at a private event and requested a non-Disney song called “Baby Shark (Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo).” It’s an infectious South Korean ditty with accompanying hand motions that was viewed on YouTube more than 2 billion times, eventually hitting the Billboard Top 100 chart. Even Ellen DeGeneres and James Corden got in on the “Baby Shark” craze.
“I didn’t know how to do it, but she sang it to me and we felt our way through it,” said Babini. “All the children came up to the stage and did the hand motions. We even did an encore. ‘Baby Shark’ crushed!”
The House of Independents show will include balloons, bubbles and themed cocktails such as a poison apple and blue fairy dust.
“It’s going to be a big party,” said Babini. “We want to bring back good childhood memories. Nostalgia is a very powerful feeling.”
The Little Mermen will perform at the House of Independents at 10 p.m. Friday, March 15. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at houseofindependents.com.
Arts and entertainment reporter Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was first published in the March 7-March 13, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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