When a show starts with three princesses gyrating and swearing at their princes, it becomes immediately clear that Disney had no hand in this version of the company’s beloved “Princess Line” franchise.
Instead, the book, music and lyrics of “Disenchanted!” a glitzy musical comedy that examines the flaws Disney princesses find within their respective stories, were all written by Dennis T. Giacino. The former history teacher was struck by the vast discrepancies between Pocahontas, the historical figure, and Pocahontas, the princess. As he writes on his website, “What would the ‘real’ Pocahontas – a circa 1616, rough-and-tumble 10-year-old Powhatan girl, have thought of the fringed deer-pelt miniskirt and long, flowing hair donned by her 20-year-old counterpart in her 1995 movie comeback?”
After writing Pocahontas’s show-stopping number “Honestly,” Giacino explored the other “princesses with a bone to pick.” The result was a hilarious celebration of how far society has come in terms of feminist and cultural issues since the first classic Disney princess movie premiered (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937).
The Performing Arts Series hosted “Disenchanted!” in Hall Auditorium on Wednesday, furthering its mission of providing accessible fine arts programming to the Oxford community, whom appeared to enjoy the show immensely. The “Disenchanted!” princesses heatedly sounded off on everything from their ridiculous anatomy (“Big Tits,” “All I Wanna Do Is Eat”) to cultural insensitivity (“Honestly”). The performances were all heartfelt and fun, infused with an enthusiasm that made it difficult not to jump out of the theatre seats and join the all-female cast.
Shelby Ringdahl as Snow White, Madison Hayes-Crook as Cinderella and Daniella Richards as Sleeping Beauty shimmied and high-kicked their way through the production, moving the show from one energetic, irreverent song to the next without ever missing a beat. Ann Paula Bautista, who played Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour, had excellent comedic timing that had the audience in stitches, particularly during her performance as Pocahontas when she shrieked “I was just a 10-year-old girl and now I’m double D?!” Cherise Thomas as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog also delighted the audience with a skillful delivery of her sardonic lines and gave an astonishing vocal performance near the end of the show that tore in to Disney for the length of time the company went without introducing a black princess.
Vanessa Leuck, whose 12 years of design experience includes the Disney on Ice show, “Let’s celebrate,” crafted beautiful, fun costumes that defied any pre-conceived notions based on the characters roaming Disney parks. All the princesses wore dresses they could actually move in, and Mulan wore pants befitting a former soldier. The added practicality did not sacrifice aesthetic, however, and showcased the subtle, but charming nods to the original princesses’ costumes.
Twisting the stories of classic Disney princesses is a concept that’s beginning to feel as worn out as the princesses themselves, but at least in “Disenchanted!” the hilarious plot never took itself too seriously. Some of the storylines felt slightly off-putting, (such as when Belle appeared in a straightjacket screaming at flatware about beastiality), and the raunchiness of the material occasionally felt crude in a way that seemed over-the-top, but ultimately the show delivered on its promise of a “subversive, not-for-kiddies musical.”
The feel-good, girl-power themes of “Disenchanted!” are not only good for laughs, but also as a reminder that not every flaw in the classic Disney princess narratives can be relegated to “Once upon a time.”