As a child, I wasn't much for princesses and happy-ever-after fairytales, and most Disney interpretations of princessdom passed me by, so I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to relate to this musical reinterpretation of multiple Disney princess stories. Fortunately, Redwood Curtain Theatre's production of Disenchanted provides just enough of the saccharine background for each princess' newly uncovered subversive sides to really shine.
Presented in the form of a cabaret act, Dennis Giacino's musical gives each of 10 Disney princess personas the opportunity to puncture the princess myth and reveal what they really want. (Hint: It's a long way from the "happily ever after" bliss the movies told you it was.) The way Mistress of Ceremonies Snow White (Molly Severdia) and her two sidekicks Cinderella (Jessi Shieman) and Sleeping Beauty (Nanette Voss-Herlihy) tell us, they are not all damsels in distress crying for help, they have no desire to wait around for their princes to come and "all this stuff is driving us out of our freaking princess minds!"
And so the princesses determine that they will regain their sanity by pulling back their sugar-encrusted veils and revealing the reality behind the princess complex (which, incidentally, is the name of a hypothetical perfume the princesses promote during the show — "just a dab behind each ear and you can spend a lifetime as a damsel in distress").
Each princess' tale is told in a song with short skits and other (melo)dramatic interludes to keep the flow of the show going. You'll never look at Disney's cinematized princesses the same way again after you learn why "happily ever after is a major pain in the ass."
Belle (Julie Angles), for example, having set up house with a beast, spends her life picking up her husband's poop. Hua Mulan (Tina Toomata) comes out with the reason she might be the only princess without a guy. The Little Mermaid (Angles) seriously regrets her Faustian bargain of trading the seven seas for two legs. Pocahontas (Toomata) journeys from a size 10 to a double D by way of every breast euphemism you can think of. Rapunzel (Angles) is leading the fight for a share of the proceeds from relentless princess merchandizing. Princess Badroulbador (Toomata) is not allowed to drive Aladdin's magic carpet. And the Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Michelle Purnell) explodes the myth that all princesses are white. (Besides, of course, Pocahontas — Mulan not techincally being a princess.)
In support of the solo story songs, Snow White and her sidekicks take on the roles of back-up singers, hand-puppet operators and prop (and sometimes princess) movers, as well as adding in their own stories.
The cast of Disenchanted is first-rate. Severdia shines as Snow White, keeping her band of rebellious princesses in line. Shieman is delightfully ditzy and somewhat saucy as the mini-skirted Cinderella. Voss-Herlihy keeps the audience's attention on her every move, even as she continually falls asleep. Special credit must go to the quick-change duo of Angles and Toomata — both performers switch seamlessly between characters and really deliver on a range of vocalizations. Purnell is a commanding presence in a role focused on singing — her powerful voice is a good match with her big number.
The ensemble cast works well together, engaging with each other and the audience to draw us into a world where OMFG might or might not stand for "Oh my fairy godmother." The on-stage band — Jonathan Roberto Moreno on piano, Tom Lopes on bass and Matt Estabrook on percussion — do an excellent job setting the scene and creating the backdrop for song styles ranging from blues to burlesque, wistful to operatic, including a sing-off between different sections of the audience.
The costumes — from Pocahontas' simple deerskin to the multiple over-the-top outfits and wigs sported by Julie Angles — more than meet the high standards we've come to expect from Lynnie Horrigan, but the scenic design is missing something. Redwood Curtain's long, narrow stage is always a challenge but in this production it feels more like a rehearsal space than the "cheap cabaret set" suggested in the program.
Severdia also takes on the role of musical director and, in conjunction with Voss-Herlihy and Shieman — what the program refers to as "Choreography (Way More Interesting)." That's in contrast with the "Choreography (Mediocre)" attributed to director Clint Rebik. Rounding out the admirable production crew are Cosme Hernandez–Johnston (light and sound) and Kiana Simmons (stage manager and dresser).
Rebik is largely successful in creating a story arc that works, although the brief tap dancing interludes interrupt the flow somewhat and could probably have been left out. The cast and director do an excellent job in finding the nudge-nudge-wink-wink moments in every one of the many innuendos the script delivers.
Redwood Curtain Theatre's Disenchanted continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through Sept. 30 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Arcadia, opening at North Coast Repertory Theatre Sept. 14 and running through Oct. 7, shifts between deep conversations in an English manor in 1809 and 1990. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.
If you like a little twang with your Grimm, Beauty Lou and the Country Beast plays at the Mateel Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Call 923-3368 or visit www.mateel.org.
Feed me, Seymour. Little Shop of Horrors and its man-eating plant open at Ferndale Repertory Theatre on Sept. 29 through Oct. 29. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.