November 13, 2020 at 11:15am
Dane Lisser

"Millikin truly was my home"

Jodi Marzorati Benson has established a legendary career, receiving worldwide recognition as the beloved, original voice of Ariel in the Academy Award winning Disney film "The Little Mermaid." Along with bringing Ariel to life, Benson also served as the voice of Barbie in Disney/Pixar's Golden Globe winner "Toy Story 2" and Oscar winning "Toy Story 3." Her accomplishments with Disney led to being named a recipient of The Disney Legends Award for having served the company for over 27 years.

Along with countless voice acting roles, nominations for the Tony Award and Helen Hayes Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and performing on Broadway and with symphonies all over the world as a concert soloist, Benson's journey, suffice to say, has been quite remarkable.

Another aspect that has remained consistent throughout Benson's celebrated career is her love of Millikin University. The 1993 Millikin graduate recently returned to campus this past September to not only see Millikin's new Center for Theatre & Dance, but to share her expertise with Millikin musical theatre students.

When she auditioned at Millikin as a student, Benson knew it was home. She came to Millikin when she was 17 in 1979 with plans to graduate in 1983, but she left Millikin during her sophomore year to begin working professionally in the entertainment industry. Benson would eventually graduate from Millikin in 1993 after completing an independent study and course requirements on campus. "Right after my audition at Millikin, I walked out the door and I told my mom 'this is it, this is where I need to be,'" Benson said.

Being back on campus this fall opened a flood of special memories for Benson, and her time with the senior musical theatre students served as both a masterclass and a "getting to know" moment.

"More than anything, I wanted to get to know who they were," Benson said. "Having a chance to tour the new Center for Theatre & Dance, I have to honestly say I was jealous. I'm just so thrilled for all of the students to have this state-of-the-art facility with all the bells and whistles."  

Benson describes her tour of the Center for Theatre & Dance as "mind-blowing." The $29 million facility has created a lot of excitement around Millikin's campus since breaking ground in May 2018. Opened this past August, the new Center features a 260-seat flexible theatre, including an orchestra pit, balcony and tech gallery with a tension wire grid. The interior of the building also features lighting and sound labs, a costume studio, a costume classroom, collaboration spaces, acting studios, design classrooms, practice rooms, modern theatre equipment and offices and support facilities for current staff, with room for growth.

"From the very first time I heard about this building, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it," Benson said. "I wanted to be part of the legacy and I also wanted a small way to be part of the foundation … to be able to just say thank you to Millikin for changing the trajectory of my life."

Benson is in awe of the one-on-one training and the overall commitment from the Millikin faculty – something she can relate to when she was a student.

"Millikin truly was my home and without it I wouldn't be where I am today," she says. "I'm so grateful to the school and to the faculty for really pouring into me. I'm thankful to be part of your world."