The song "If Only" is from the second act and is a newly written song for the show. It features a quartet of singers - Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton - who all sing about what they wish for. It takes place after the end of Ariel's second day, just after "Kiss the Girl" so things aren't looking up for her. It begins with Ariel (yes, she's lost her voice, but the audience can still "hear" her) :
If only you would notice how I ache behind my smile,
I guess you never will, I guess it doesn't show
But if I never find a way to tell you so....
Oh! What I would give if only you could know
Ariel's palpable longing for Eric is beautifully backed by the wistful melody as she imagines what could happen "if only." Although the original fairy tale has the little mermaid wanting two things - to be human as well as marry the Prince - this song only highlights Ariel's love, and I'm such a sucker for romance. I find Ariel's verses in this song so haunting and plaintive and full of yearning. It takes that same feeling from "Part of Your World" and makes it a personal need for love and acceptance.
How come when she looks at me
It seems like time stops moving
Almost like the way it did that day upon the shore
The Prince in the original fairy tale and the Disney movie is a little marginalized. He's hardly in one, and doesn't get to do much until the end in the other. This musical develops the character, gives him more songs, adds more to Eric's relationship to Ariel, and makes him unequivocally choose her without knowing she was the one who saved him. That is the biggest and best character change in my opinion! (In the movie, I don't think this is really shown unambiguously) In this song, he is just beginning to realize how much he is drawn to Ariel, even while obsessed with "that voice."
And if I only could,
I'd tell you what I do,
I'd simply wave me claw
And make your dreams come true
Oh Sebastian! I find his character so touching in this story. Despite his crusty exterior he has such a warm, generous heart and his part in this song is to sing about how much he would do for Ariel to be happy. He's just as wistful and so sympathetic to Ariel, it kind of makes me teary because it's so lovely for her to have a such a true friend like that.
I'll try to understand,
I'll keep my temper low,
I should have started listening to you long ago
King Triton sings of his despair at losing his daughter, which is another reason this song makes me teary. His verse is short in the song, but to the point and pretty heartbreaking when you empathize with the character. I've always loved that King Triton is so forbidding and commanding in the show, but he loves his daughters so much and is willing to give up everything for them. And then this song is reprised later between King Triton and Ariel and, surprise! it's just as melancholy and sweet when it's about Triton letting his daughter grow up.
Yup, this song is a tear fest, and the way all four voices weave together in the end (so perfectly!), just brings all the emotions to a poignant climax which then fades away as the characters have to face their reality. I think this song does so much in illuminating character and purpose while also reminding everyone what's at stake. And with it also being a beautifully melodic song, it's definitely one of my favorite songs from any musical, and I hope that if you have a listen you'll enjoy it as well! Ariel is played by Sierra Boggess, Prince Eric by Sean Palmer, Sebastian by Tituss Burgess, and King Triton by Norm Lewis. Their voices are so spectacular.
This is an unofficial video from the Denver run (pre-Broadway) so there are some lyric changes - the Bway lyrics are better! (If Only I could get a better video of this!) Thanks for making it through this rather long edition of "Books to Music"! :)