Little Mermaid Star Alison Woods on Cowboy Boots, Barbecue and Playing Ariel

Given the amount of rain we’ve had in the Metroplex this winter (and now, this spring), it’s fitting that the most anticipated musical to hit Music Hall at Fair Park takes place under the sea. Disney’s The Little Mermaid, part of the Dallas Summer Musical series, is wowing sold-out audiences night after night. The production is gathering rave reviews, and no one more so than the lithe, lovely leading lady, Alison Woods. Her powerful voice and physical core strength, by which she generates significant vector forces to maneuver around the make-believe waves, are stronger than any Broadway actress to play the role to date. The Observer recently caught up with Woods to talk about this production, cowboy boots, and whether she’ll visit Southfork Ranch while in town.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid opened on March 11 and is playing until March 27 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. How’s the show going so far?

Going really well actually. The audience seems to be really enjoying it. Everyone’s having a great time. I’ve never actually toured before, and this is our biggest house with the most amount of seats that we’ve played for. There are a lot more people.

Does that intimidate you at all?
No. It makes it more fun.

You weren’t the original Ariel on Broadway. How did you land the part?
I auditioned for the Broadway show years ago to replace Ariel in the Broadway production. It went really well and they were interested in me. They wanted me to strengthen my voice a bit, which I did. I was also strength training and evening swimming every day to prepare for my next audition for the role. Then they announced that the Broadway show was closing. I got great training out of it but I thought that my chance to play Ariel was gone. This was five years ago. How old were you then?
I can’t tell you that. I’m a little older than Ariel is.
Anyway, last year my agent sent me on an audition for this show, and I knew that [director] Glenn Casale had done all this work to reimagine the show from the Broadway version. I auditioned for Glenn, and they called me back, and I auditioned for the producers. Then a couple of weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything and assumed they went with someone else. Then they called me back and offered me the role.

How did you react to the news?
I cried. It was very exciting for me because it was something that I’d been working toward for so long. I grew up loving the movie, and I always wanted to be the Little Mermaid.

To use a fish pun, like in the show, you didn’t want this to be the one that got away.
Exactly. Exactly.

You took a rather round-about path to get into live theater, especially for someone who grew up in Los Angeles. Tell us how you got to where you are.
Yes, I grew up in LA, but my family is not in the business at all. I started dancing when I was 2 ½, and that got me into choir and singing and music theater. I always did school productions. I went to college at UC Santa Barbara, and they don’t have a musical theater program, so I only did student productions when I was in school. My degree was in psychology. I didn’t have a plan with the rest of my career, but I knew I didn’t want to be a clinical psychologist. I always had it in the back of my mind that I was going to perform and that I was going to act professionally. Luckily I’ve had some success with it. I’m happy to be where I am.

You started the national tour for this production last August in Houston, then on to New Orleans, San Antonio, Austin, Minneapolis, Sacramento and Fort Worth after your run at Music Hall at Fair Park. Which city were you most excited to visit?
We’ve all been looking forward to coming to Dallas. We heard that it’s a fun place and the people are so warm and welcoming. And the barbecue! I’ve been in the airport a bunch but have never had famous Dallas barbecue.

Have you had any since you’ve been here?
No! I heard a lot about the Pecan Lodge. If you have any other suggestions, I am open to them.

No, you’re right about Pecan Lodge. You might have to throw your celebrity status around to get to the front of the line. Do they know who you are?
Um, I don’t think so.

That’s how you’ll know you’ve made it in Dallas – when you go right to the front of the line at Pecan Lodge.
That’s true.

What’s the one thing you had on your itinerary for your time in Dallas?
My number-one goal by the time I leave is to find the perfect cowboy boots. I really want a pair of authentic cowboy boots.

I can give you a suggestion on cowboy boots, but I might upset some people because the best place is in Fort Worth.
Oh, really? OK, I won’t tell anybody if you tell me.

M.L. Leddy’s in the Stockyards.
OK wait, let me write this down.

But you can’t tell anyone I said that.
I won’t. I promise.

Do you have any desire to see Southfork Ranch?
What is that?

I think you just showed your age.

The Little Mermaid runs through March 27 at the Music Hall at Fair Park and then moves to Fort Worth's Bass Hall March 29- April 4.