Judging by the rockstar-style raucous reception Belle and Ariel received during the recent ice show at the Amway, and the epic waits times seen this week to meet & greet Snow White and Rapunzel at the Magic Kingdom's freshly opened Princess Fairytale Hall, the ongoing popularity of Disney's princesses appears pretty well assured. But what happens when these public domain heroines get tired of being imprisoned by the "princess complex" of Walt-imposed painted perfection? According to writer/composer Dennis T. Giacino's New York-bound Mickey-mocking musical Disenchanted!, if these animated ingenues could escape they'd seek vengeance via vaudeville.
It's a dynamite concept, and was originally conceived here in the shadow of the Mouse by Giacino and director Fiely Matias of Orlando's outrageous Oops Guys comedy troupe. Their original take (then subtitled "Bitches of the Kingdom") debuted at the 2011 Orlando Fringe and was a huge hit, but I was disappointed that the strong premise was wasted on a plotless string of disconnected songs. Happily, several years of workshops around the country have made this new expanded edition now playing downtown's The Abbey (through October 27) a much more substantial, if still not entirely cohesive, piece of entertainment.
Michelle Knight's Snow White makes a sweetly sardonic mistress of ceremonies, able to stop the show with a single arched eyebrow, while Breanne Pickering's ditzy Cinderella serves as baby-voiced foil to White's withering wit. And every time always-awesome Andrea Canny steps on stage, either as a Baby Jane-insane Belle or alcoholic Ariel, she brings down the house. Giacino's score is stocked with peppy 60's pop pastiches and sharp lyrics (rhyming "lesbian" and "DeGeneres-ian" and referencing "Norma Rae" and "Thelma & Louise"), but only the dynamic Lulu Picard, portraying Pocahontas and Mulan, gets to sing songs that really scratch beneath her characters' comic surfaces and explore the cultural exploitation inherent in their depictions.
By contrast, Shonda L. Thurman has fine vocal and comedic chops, but her "Black Forest" Rapunzel and Frog Princess seem parachuted into the play's second half with minimal effort at integration (pardon the pun). And Hannah Berry-Mathews' Sleeping Beauty has a few funny supporting moments, but her big narcoleptic number kills all the momentum built by the show's first hour, putting the play's pace into a coma that takes most of the final act to recover from.
Transitional moments now link the songs together more satisfactorily than before, but I still wish for a sturdier storyline pushed forward by conflicts between the princesses' personalities; though these women are from greatly varying cultures and classes, their potentially dramatic differences are glossed over with "girl power." And while these women have no problems being heard, an overly aggressive microphone mix made their passionate projection somewhat painful.
What makes most of Disenchanted! so delightful is the deliriously dangerous sense of barely-contained anarchy (reminiscent of the infamous flubs on "The Carol Burnett Show") delivered by Matias' side-splitting direction of his stellar central cast.At their best, the ensemble exudes a giddy imbalance that threatens to pimps-slap the front row with pixie dust at any moment. You don't have to be a Disney-hater (or lover, for that matter) to enjoy watching these royal renegades "ripping Steamboat Willie" a new one...but it doesn't hurt.
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