In the Spotlife: Lillian Buonocore and Cole LaFonte of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Photo by Glenn Ross



Lillian Buonocore and Cole LaFonte, both rising seniors in the University of Northern Colorado’s Musical Theatre program in Greeley, are playing Ariel and Prince Eric through Sept. 8 in BDT Stage’s current production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Both are new to Boulder’s landmark stage. Lily’s credits include Lily in The Secret Garden and Kate Monster in Avenue Q; also Spring Awakening, West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar. Cole’s other  shows include West Side Story, The Boy Friend, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pulcinella and Baby.

  • Hometowns:  Buonocore hails from Huntington Beach, Calif., while LaFonte is a Littleton native who graduated from Columbine High School.
  • Home now: Greeley
  • Training: Both are studying for their BAs in Musical Theatre from the University of Northern Colorado. Lily is also pursuing a minor in Dance.
  • What’s your handle? Lily can be followed at @lilybridgetb on Instagram.
  • Twitter-sized bio: Lily: “Singer. Dancer. Actress. Lover of pasta, pandas, and puppies. An old soul who enjoys ’90s TV shows. Wants to help save the bees and turtles.” Cole: “Disney fanatic. Actor, singer and dancer. A bit of a nerd. Lover of tennis, baseball and football. Proficient with puns. A friend to all.”
  • Photo by Glenn Ross.

    What made you decide to pursue your degrees at UNC? Lily: “Because of the people and the beautiful campus. The moment I got there, I was welcomed with open arms by the faculty and the students. After only spending a single day on campus, I knew it was the place for me. The beauty of Greeley isn’t immediately obvious. You have to look a little harder for it — but it’s there.” Cole: “Funnily enough, I did not originally intend to attend UNC. I had been accepted to the University of Colorado and was going in undeclared. But my high-school theatre teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, and my parents encouraged me to audition for the Musical Theatre program at UNC. I auditioned and by the grace of God, I was accepted. After visiting the campus, and much prayer, it was clear that my future was at UNC pursuing a career I love.

  • Why is UNC is generally regarded as one of the top undergrad theatre programs in the country? Lily and Cole: “UNC provides a fantastic theatre education with a low tuition, making it fairly affordable for students in and out of state. Because it is located in Colorado, a state with a large amount of theatre, many students are able to look outside of the university for work and opportunities while still in school.”
  • Christy Altomare and Zachary Levi.

    Who are your theatre idols? Lily:One of my theatre idols is Christy Altomare, who is currently playing Anastasia on Broadway. She is incredibly talented as well as humble, which is something I try to maintain as a performer. I love the passion she has onstage and hope to play some of the roles she has played in my future. Another idol is Barrett Wilbert-Weed, who is currently playing Janice in Mean Girls on Broadway. She has a confidence and a strength that I admire so much. I have been told that my voice sounds too dark, but the dark color to Barrett’s voice is part of what has made her famous. Seeing someone on Broadway with a similar vocal quality to mine has given me more confidence as a performer. She has created her own “type” on Broadway, and she has never tried to conform to be like anyone else. Both of these women are wonderful role-models.” Cole: “Santino Fontana and Zachary Levi are the theatre performers I look up to the most. Not only have both done work voicing Disney Princes (Hans and Flynn Rider, respectively), but they have both worked in film and on Broadway. They are both extremely talented and humble individuals, which I admire greatly. Also, I saw Zachary Levi in She Loves Me on Broadway, and it was one of my all-time favorite performances I have ever seen.”

  • Were you Disney musical geeks growing up? Lily: “I have always loved Disney musicals growing up, especially Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. I remember seeing The Little Mermaid on Broadway with Denver native Sierra Boggess as Ariel when I was young. I was absolutely blown away by the Disney magic and her voice, and I never thought I would have the opportunity to play the role later in life.” Cole: “I have loved Disney for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who loved High School Musical and started doing musical theater more because of it. However, my love for the more classic Disney musicals — specifically the princess ones — grew when I was a sophomore in high school. I fell in love with the stage productions of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Among the movies, my favorites are Tangled and Hercules. (Frozen is a close third.)
  • What does it mean to you that a couple of college undergrads have been cast in lead roles at the venerable BDT Stage? Lily and Cole: “Being college undergrads, it is easy to doubt that your abilities are polished enough to be cast at a theatre as reputable as BDT Stage. Receiving this opportunity has been eye-opening for both of us. It means there are opportunities out there, but you have to be brave enough to seek them. We are truly honored to be a part of the BDT Stage family.”
  • What are your all-time bucket-list roles? Lily: One I’ve had since I was young is Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Although Ariel has been a dream-come-true to play, I would be thrilled to play Belle someday. Other bucket-list roles include Wednesday in The Addams Family, Janet in The Drowsy Chaperone and Anastasia in Anastasia.” Cole: “To start, I would love to play every Disney prince at some point. Luckily, I already get to check one of those off the list with Eric. But I would love to play The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Christian in Moulin Rouge, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and Georg in She Loves Me.”
  • Were you ever totally miscast for a role? Lily: “Right after I graduated from high school, I was cast as Ermengarde in Hello Dolly! I loved playing the role because it was nothing like I had ever done because of how over-dramatic she is, but I was completely shocked by the casting choice.” Cole: “The closest thing I can think of is when I played one of the priests in Jesus Christ Superstar. I am not a villain type, and it was way different than anything I had ever played before.”
  • What are you listening to on Spotify? Lily: Daughter is my favorite band. I love songs with poetic lyrics. I also love listening to Daniel Caesar. He has such a unique vocal style. Cole: Right now I have been listening to a lot of Fall Out Boy. Their new album, ‘Mania,’ is very different from their usual sound, but it has been my summer soundtrack.”
  • What does the old guard of the American theatre need to know from the young guard of the American theatre about how we should be nurturing and fostering the next generation of theatregoers? Lily: “The world we live in is becoming more progressive as time goes by, and the theatre community is a strong advocate for that. I believe we should continue to support theatre that has a strong impact on the way people view the human experience. Theatre should bring about strong emotions, and should cause people to challenge their own views and beliefs because the world is changing, and theatre is changing with it.” Cole: “We’re young and willing to learn, but don’t discourage new concepts. Sometimes a new idea can change the theatre for the better.”

Cole LaFonte, Alicia K. Meyers (as Ursula) and Lillian Buonocore in BDT Stage’s ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Photo by Glenn Ross.

  • What is Disney’s The Little Mermaid all about? In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, a beautiful young mermaid named Ariel longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. Wanting to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above, Ariel bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, but the bargain is not what it seems. Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved fables and the classic Disney animated film. Iconic songs include “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World.”
  • What do you hope audiences get out of seeing The Little Mermaid? Lily: “I hope audiences leave with a smile on their faces and a fun song they can’t get out of their heads. The Little Mermaid isn’t just for children — it’s for people of all ages. It shows the value of having a voice and why it is important to
    use it. It also demonstrates the power in never giving up on your dreams. Cole: “My biggest hope is that audiences walk away filled with joy, love and the wonderful magic of Disney. If we can transport them into the world of Disney for 2 hours, then we have done our jobs.”
  • What do you want to get off your chest? Lily: “People should be kinder to each other. Not just in the theatre community — in every community. The world has enough hatred and sadness in it, and kindness is the best way to make a difference. It’s not hard to make someone smile or show someone respect. If we all start implementing more kindness and understanding in our lives, the world will become a much nicer place to live in.” Cole: “Love one another, and do not be afraid. People are created for love and by love, and know that each and every person is loved by someone. Everyone on this Earth desires and deserves to be loved. To love means to will the good of the other, and therefore it cannot be selfish. We must start living our lives in service of others, or humanity will surely perish. People are not perfect, and so we must always forgive and love others — especially when it is difficult. We must not be afraid of rejection or failure. We must not be afraid of the future or the unknown. But most of all we, must not be afraid to love.

The Little Mermaid: Ticket information

  • Presented by BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
  • Through Sept. 8
  • Written by Alan Menken; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater; book by Doug Wright
  • Directed by Matthew D. Peters
  • Showtimes 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:45 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; 1:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (dinner service begins 90 minutes earlier)
  • Prices: $39-$67
  • Call 303-449-6000 or

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