Disney’s fairy tale ladies file funny grievances in Rarely Done’s Disenchanted
By James MacKillop
Rarely Done Productions’ season opener comes with two titles, Disenchanted and Bitches of the Kingdom.
The second titles, Bitches, which now looks like the subtitle, actually came first. It was Bitches while the witty, satirical review was developing at different venues but became Disenchanted during a long and successful run in Orlando. That’s OK because the Walt Disney corporation has become our purveyor of folkloric heroines who originated elsewhere. Disney has shaped what we think dewy-cheeked Snow White or the pugnacious Chinese cross-dresser Mulan should look like. So whether it’s Uncle Walt or Grandfather Time, here are 10 lovely creatures who don’t buy that “happily ever after” malarkey. They might be bitching, but they just want to make you laugh.
Previously unknown playwright and musical-comedy composer Dennis Giacino takes credit for the music, book and lyrics. He began the project with his pal Fiely Matias, who provided additional lyrics and who may be responsible for three of the princesses being played in drag by the same guy.
Dan Tursi’s direction follows the history as we begin with a trio and the show takes new directions as additional princesses appear from the wings. Giacino’s score, rooted in Broadway, tends to be bouncy. The lyrics, often decked with tricky tonguetwisters, goes back through Tom Lehrer to W.S. Gilbert. Few may rush out to buy the CD, but quite a few numbers could have a long life as party pieces for show folk.
“Look at me,” says Snow White. “Do I look like I need to sit around waiting for my prince (two-beat pause) to come?” Good timing, and a portent of things to come. Most of the songs are scrubbed of rough language (save for one number titled “Big Tits”), but double-entendres with the blandest sounding lines are always ready to leap up. If the many princesses feel misused it is often because they are expected to be passive rather than take charge. Think of it as Gloria Steinem, circa 1970. Secondarily, they are angry to be judged by their appearances rather than by their abilities or personal worth. Sounds like Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, circa 1991. We know where they’re coming from, but they’re funnier as satirists rather than as theorists.
We start with a trio, and from the beginning director Tursi leads us away from clichés and into the unexpected. Tall, brunette Julia Berger as the assertive Snow White seems to be the lead, and before the evening is over, we see her more than anybody. Next to her is a shorter, very slim blonde, Amy Zubieta, as a somewhat winsome Cinderella, and soubrette Marcia Mele as a Sleeping Beauty of a certain age. Well, she had been sleeping all that time. These three keep turning up and joining in later numbers, and Tursi asks the most from them. Berger’s been having a good summer, just coming off her big role as redheaded Georgia Hendricks in the Talent Company’s Curtains.
Sticking with folk figures reshaped by Disney, we turn next to Belle (Sarah Elmer) in brown sausage curls as the beauty half of Beauty and the Beast. As the script is written, we’re not expected to recognize her instantly from the costume and so she has to be introduced. Strange to say, actress Elmer, then known as Sarah Harrington, sang the role of Belle under Tursi’s direction for the now-defunct Syracuse Civic Theatre production six years ago. If she’s thinking of rejoining the stage, her charming, well-trained voice should find lots of employment.
In a number titled “Insane!” Disenchanted spoofs the overwrought production values that reshaped that very French folktale into a Disney property. To pull this off Disenchanted sports some of the richest costumes, all from Debra and Ron Ritchey’s CNY Costumes. Poshy-poshy but not too much.
Then in an abrupt turn, the script abandons Disney for more generic show-biz bitching: not getting enough time in the spotlight. Here come the three drag roles, all played by Dan Williams. First comes Princess Badroulbador (of Aladdin), then Esmeralda (of Hunchback of Notre Dame) and finally Bitter Pixie, and the laments are always the same: “Secondary Princess!” All that beauty, all that costuming and makeup, and audiences hardly see her at all.
Jodie Baum, a Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) winner and ordinarily one of Tursi’s best comics in this kind of frivolity, seems underused as Mulan, the Chinese warrior princess. In contrast to the passive sweethearts from European lore, Mulan enters flashing martial arts skills and looks like she means trouble if crossed. Her complaint is with the source material: never getting a boyfriend. Thus in her number, “Without the Guy,” she shouts her lesbianism like an activist from Act-Up. By this time Disenchanted is moving away from the Mouse House toward other targets, but fortunately Baum’s Mulan sticks around to join in. That includes “Big Tits,” with six princesses east and west in an in-your-face blowup of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” from Marvin Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line.
Two more princesses come to complain about their portrayal in Disney films. Pocahontas (Marissa Bregande) hates what’s done to her hair. Once she gets out of the wrong size wig, short, sunburned Bregande makes a visual pun on Snooki Polizzi of Jersey Shore. Little Mermaid (Ceara Rose Windhausen) is looking for two legs to walk on.
Three numbers have nothing to do with Disney at all and just slide in independently, even when they employ most of the ensemble. “All I Want to Do is Eat,” with some of the best lyrics, cries out the cultural tyranny of thinness for women. Cinderella complains that she’s never tasted a Milky Way candy bar. “Finally” brings in a welcome touch of Motown with the Frog Princess (Serika Jones). “Not V’one Red Cent,” while among the most amusing songs of the evening, might have been written for a different show. This one spoofs the Ger-man origin, through the Brothers Grimm, of so many characters, notably Rupunzel (Sunny Hernandez), hardly a shrinking violet. Indeed, she emerges as a dominatrix out of Kraft-Ebbing with lyrics and music by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The music returns to Disney in two late numbers, “A Happy Tune?” and “Once Upon a Time,” kind of tying the show up with a bow.
Disney, famously litigious, is never going to sue for all the loving softballs thrown its way in Disenchanted. This satire only proves how much we’ve paid attention to the big boys in Orlando and Burbank. This production runs through Sept. 24. See Times Table for information.