“One more ‘Once upon a time’ and I swear I’ll go insane!”
If you’ve been basically held captive in a home where animated films featuring fairy tale princesses are constantly in the DVD player, that sentiment – uttered early on in the Broadway in Chicago musical revue “Disenchanted!” – may be something you’ve felt, too. But in the hands of a skilled writer – in this case Dennis T. Giacino, who wrote the book, music and lyrics – that’s just the beginning of the myriad ways he pokes fun at familiar fairy tale characters who are just as crazy as you and me. In fact, the words spoken and sung by six actresses playing 10 animated princesses were so funny I wanted to buy the music on CD to catch any witty lyrics I might have missed.
When I initially walked into the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, the pop/rap music playing through the speakers didn’t put me in the best of moods – it was much too loud to allow for normal conversation, and the only thing it had in common with Giacino’s songs in “Disenchanted!” was that only female vocalists were featured.
But when the turn-off-your-phones announcement suggested we also silence our magic mirrors, the chuckling began. Our three hosts for this “musical extravaganza” were Snow White (Merritt Crews), a self-centered diva; Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook), sweet but also slightly dim; and Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards), a very down-to-Earth princess whose snoring is definitely not pretty. We’re in good hands with these three, especially Hayes-Crook, whose naiveté and gentle humor endeared her to us. But let’s be clear: Despite their names, they’re not hosting a show for young kids, as we quickly surmise by the language in the opening number.
Miriam Drysdale, who plays Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel at various times in the show, gives us three excellent examples of post-happily-ever-after frustration. A prime example comes early on when Belle is introduced and is wheeled out wearing a Hannibal Lecter-type mask and a straitjacket. The song she performs is aptly titled “Insane,” about how she was pushed beyond the edge due to all the singing inanimate objects in her magical home, combined with other bizarre aspects of her day-to-day life such as what she has to do to clean up after her “Beast” husband (i.e., in a way every dog owner would understand).
Also pulling triple-character duty here is Ann Paula Bautista as Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour (known by a different name in the Disney version of Aladdin). Through costumes, makeup and acting skills, both Bautista and Drysdale clearly differentiate each of their princesses. For instance, Pocahontas in real life was a child, not the buxom young adult seen in the animated film. In the song “Honestly,” Bautista’s sincerity and Giacino’s lyrics combine for a well-earned laugh: “Honestly, I was only 10, but now I’m double-D!”
Uche Ama is the final member of the ensemble as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog. If you remember that film, the young woman in the title was black, which was a new twist for animated princesses. In the song “Finally,” Ama’s character comes into her own, with both a disco ball and mid-song costume change.
While one song is titled “Perfect,” that doesn’t describe the show. While I laughed – a lot – a big disappointment for me was the lack of a pit orchestra or small live band to accompany these talented singers/actresses. After recently seeing “The King and I” at the Civic Opera House with more than three dozen instrumentalists, I felt cheated by the use of recorded music at “Disenchanted!” It struck me as a cheap move, even for what’s basically an “Off Broadway in Chicago” show.
In summary, I wasn’t entirely enchanted with “Disenchanted!,” but I do recommend it. Director Christopher Bond, Music Director Paul Moody and Choreographer Stacey Maroske have helped their cast put together a funny, witty, occasionally tasteless but also guffaw-inducing show. Leave the kids at home, but bring your willingness to laugh – you’ll need it.
• Paul Lockwood is a past president of TownSquare Players (TSP) and an occasional community theater actor in McHenry County, appearing in over two dozen plays and musicals since he and his wife moved to Woodstock 15 years ago. Recent productions in which he’s acted include “Into the Woods,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “A Christmas Carol” (2014) at the Woodstock Opera House.
WHEN: Through June 5
WHERE: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago
COST & INFO: Poisoned apples. Glass slippers. Who needs ’em?! Not Snow White and her posse of disenchanted princesses in the hilarious hit musical that’s anything but Grimm. Forget the princesses you think you know – the original storybook heroines have come back to life to set the record straight. Recommended for ages 14 and older. Information: http://broadwayinchicago.com.