‘Disenchanted!’ a cheesy fairy princess mashup
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Stephen Sondheim. Stephen Sondheim. Stephen Sondheim. And “Into the Woods.”
The impulse to shout out that hallowed name, along with the title of Sondheim’s musical of intersecting fairy tales, just about got me through the 100 painful minutes of “Disenchanted!,” the latest far-below-par show to arrive on the stage of the Broadway Playhouse courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.
That impulse was accompanied by this question: Why does Broadway in Chicago consistently dump the most amateurish shows — often cast with non-Equity actors who have no connection to Chicago — on the ideally intimate Playhouse stage that is located in the very heart of one of the most heavily touristed areas of Chicago? Why does it want to give audiences the impression that this is what Chicago theater is all about? And how, in all good conscience, can the producers charge the prices they do for work that is on a community children’s theater level? (And yes, I know the show had an Off Broadway run, and has been seen in many cities nationwide, but that is irrelevant.)
And then there is this question: Just what is the target audience for this “revue,” with its book, music and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino? Devised as a sort of feminist manifesto — with the goal of “liberating” all those damsels-in-distress Disney princesses drawn from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and other sources — Giacino’s show replaces submissiveness with anger, pseudo-Miley Cyrus twerking, a fair amount of run-of-the-mill obscenities, and one sequence, involving The Little Mermaid, in which she rips off her tail and, and, standing on two legs, complains that she now has to open them for sex.
I doubt this is what mothers bringing their daughters straight from American Girl Place in the Water Tower expect they will have to explain. And really, is this liberation? Beyond all that (and many would argue kids are exposed to far more these days), the production values of the show, which is performed to canned music, are cheap and tacky. And while some of the voices in this cast of six actresses are solid or better, director Christopher Bond’s instructions to them all seems to have been: When in doubt just scream it out — the shriller the better.
When: Through June 5
Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Tickets: $35.75 – $78.75
Info: (800) 775-2000, http://www.BroadwayIn Chicago.com
Run time: 95 minutes. with no intermission
Leading the revolt against the many so-called Prince Charmings and happy-ever-afters of fairy tale fame are Snow White (Merritt Crews in irritating semi-dominatrix mode); Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook, with what seems to be a purposefully grating voice), and Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards, who snoozes until her eleven o’clock number). Miriam Drysdale plays the Mermaid, as well as a Bavarian-with-a-whip Rapunzel, and Belle, who is (understandably) tired of dealing with talking forks, spoons and other inanimate objects.
It is the outsider princesses who fare best here, with Ann Paula Bautista gamely playing the more “exotic” princesses, including: Hua Mulan, the female Chinese warrior (who now claims she is a lesbian), Pocahontas (who protests that her true history was stolen from her), and Badroulbador, who describes herself as the all-purpose Middle-Eastern character, with a minor role in “Aladdin.” (Costume designer Vanessa Leuck has created a clever flying carpet costume for the latter.)
Last but by no means least there is The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (deftly played by Uche Ame, who makes a seamless switch from tiara-topped beauty to rhythm-and-blues rocker). She is the rare African-American princess who makes it clear she has been waiting far too long to be invited to the palace ball.
As for the songs, they are generic rock with cheesy titles that pretty much say it all: “Big T–s,” “Two Legs” and “All I Wanna Do Is Eat.”
Frankly, Disney’s princesses have always been alien creatures to me, and far from aspirational, although I confess to a certain fondness for Sondheim’s take on the adventurous Little Red Riding Hood. And when it comes to “Disenchanted!” there is just one more question: Where is that wolf when we need him most?