Another class act for Jodi Benson

She won't be wearing her tail fin for this one.Jodi Benson, best known as the voice of Ariel, the Little Mermaid, is not only back on dry land, she's appearing in three dimensions as the female lead in "Crazy for You," which opens its pre-Broadway engagement at Washington's National Theatre on Wednesday.

Based on the 1930 Gershwin musical, "Girl Crazy," "Crazy for You" features a script rewritten by Washington playwright Ken Ludwig, author of "Lend Me a Tenor." Besides including five previously unpublished Gershwin songs, one of the more


obvious changes is the consolidation of the characters originally played by Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman. The result is Ms. Benson's character -- "the only female in Deadrock, Nev.," and the love interest of a New York playboy played by Harry Groener.

However, "Crazy for You" isn't all the Illinois-born actress is up to. Being the Little Mermaid is almost a full-time job in itself. She's recorded a prime-time special, scheduled to air this spring; that'll be followed by a 65-episode Saturday morning series. Conveniently, modern technology has made it possible for her to work on the series almost anywhere; the director's comments are patched through on her headset.


Nor is "The Little Mermaid" her only animated cartoon. In the past few years, Ms. Benson has become something of an animation superstar. Every Saturday she can be heard as the voice of Princess Tula in "Pirates of Dark Water"; she's also made a pilot for a series based on the doll, P.J. Sparkles; and she's the title voice in "Thumbelina," an animated feature due out next November.

Of course, "The Little Mermaid" started it all, and that came about partly because of "Smile," a short-lived musical that featured Ms. Benson, and which played a pre-Broadway run at the Mechanic Theatre in 1986. "Smile's" lyricist, the late Howard Ashman, was also the lyricist of "The Little Mermaid."

Ironically, Ms. Benson's big number in "Smile" was a song called, "Disneyland," which included the lyric: "I want to live in Disneyland." In a sense, she's been there ever since.

'Crazy for You'

When: Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Jan. 16.

Where: National Theatre, Washington.

Tickets: $30-$50.

% Call: (202) 628-6161.