By Ian Rigg
Finally given the chance to be pernicious, princesses prove, “Happily ever after can be a royal pain in the ass.” Disenchanted! is a satirical, side-splitting spin on the stereotypical sing-song Disney musical, skewering the stories audiences thought they knew.
Director Christopher Bond runs a show with the laser-precision of a Disney production, but the irreverence of Spamalot and Shrek. With incredibly detailed costumes and wigs by Vanessa Leuck, tight and titillating sound design by Kevin Lacy, lovely lighting by Michelle Ramsay, great choreography by Stacey Maroske and of course a fog machine, Disenchanted! picks apart the patriarchy song by song.
Dismantling Disney are 6 rebellious royals fed up with the “Princess Complex,” a shameful syndrome that turns strong women into damsels in distress. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are the hosts for the evening, with a bone to pick with their ol’ buddy Walt. “One More Happ’ly Ever After” and they swear they’ll go insane. So with the help of another three equally talented actresses playing the other princesses, they vow that their variety hour will open the audience’s eyes to the rotten apple they’ve been fed, all before the clock strikes 7:40 (silly Cinderella reckons it’s between 6 and midnight).
The raucous, raunchy hour and a half includes hilarious numbers about the Princess Complex, such as “Big Tits,” making fun of the “sexually frustrated men making films with their zips” and the unrealistic body image they encouraged and “All I Wanna Do Is Eat,” where the cast craves the Butterfinger Cinderella pulls out of her bodice. Poking fun at beauty standards, eating disorders, discrimination and every ill imaginable in an animated picture, this cast is not one to be missed.
Miriam Drysdale is an utter riot in a myriad of roles, using her character chops to portray twisted takes on Ariel, Belle, and Rapunzel. She completely commits to crazy and seamlessly switches through several styles. Belle is wheeled out in a Hannibal Lecter mask, singing a doo-wop song about her Stockholm syndrome, living with sentient furniture and loving a hairy mammal, and how it’s all driving her “Insane.”
Ariel stumbles onstage, partly because of her “Two Legs” (too many), but primarily because she’s a drunk, Dolly-Partonesque country singer with some of the best one-liners in the show (“I’m the frickin’ Lil’ Mermaid,” “The Real Housewives of Atlantis,” “Snoop Frog,” and the most hilarious set of riffs about Flounder the guppy ever sung). Her rendition of Rapunzel as a German dominatrix provides the audience interaction number, instructing them to scream back “NOT V’ONE RED CENT!” (what the original German fairytale writers received from Walt and company’s meddling). Drysdale is a true delight.
The amazing Uche Ama could (and should) have been given more to do as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog, but that fact is at least lampooned in a meta manner within the show itself. The show wants to have its cake and eat it too, utilizing racial humor to point out how lazy and offensive production companies can be. With a tremendous voice, swinging from Mozart-like to Motown, Ama laments how Disney made movies about toys and cars before her, sonorously singing, “Why’d it take them so long to give a sister a song?” While the question is rhetorical, it’s her time now, every second she commands the stage.
Ann Paula Bautista does a fantastic job continuing to call out the racist stereotypes and revisionist histories of the Princess Complex, playing Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Baldroulbadour (who Disney renamed ‘Jasmine’). With powerful pipes and perfect blend of levity and gravity, she illuminates the prejudice (unconscious and conscious alike) within beloved films. (“That was culturally insensitive! Mr. Donald Trump in the sound booth, everybody!”) “Without The Guy” explains how audiences and authors got Mulan wrong racially, then wastes no time returning to comedy, and launches into how Mulan “might be a lesbian.”
Bautista and Bond know how to maintain a running joke, as Mulan’s non-sequiturs (“Thank you all for COMING OUT tonight!”) and (reluctantly reciprocated) flirtations with Cinderella are a delight. “Secondary Princess” is a nice jazz number with an immensely clever take on the magic carpet. “Honestly” is one of the musical’s rare poignant moments and is in fact the idea that inspired the show: what does the 10-year-old Powhatan think of the 20-something “pornstar” in a deer mini-skirt Disney turned her into, and why do they “take history and make it their own?” Bautista beautifully makes audiences wonder, as well as wail with laughter.
Madison Hayes-Crook causes cackles as Cinderella, a hilarious tongue-in-cheek take on an out-of-touch “beauty-obsessed insecure baby-like waif.” An emblem of the Princess Complex, Cinderella is as clueless as Sleeping Beauty is crass and an absolute joy to behold. With lovely, lilting voice and impeccable comedic timing (“OMFG! Oh my fairy godmother!”) she “sweeps the floor” with this show. Her wide-eyed wonder and amusing antics indicate she’s having more fun on the stage than perhaps anyone else. With as much fun that transpires, that’s a true testament to Hayes-Crook’s commitment to comedy.
Daniella Richards is riotous as Sleeping Beauty. She plays it as the Kathy Najimy to Snow White’s Bette Midler and Cinderella’s Sarah Jessica Parker. Routinely busting a move and making no attempt to be a demure Disney princess, she invokes the ire of her begrudging buddy Snow as she continually sleeps through her musical number and threatens to “rain up on Walt Disney’s ass” (her line “Pinocchio, no means no!” is worth the price of admission alone). This all culminates in the climax and true message of the show when she and Snow White reconcile. She finally sings her big number, “Perfect,” about how women should reject the Princess Complex and embrace their own, complex selves. Richards is “just that” as Sleeping Beauty.
And Merritt Crews is the fairest of them all. The original Disney princess, it’s only fitting she leads the merry band of misfits, and does it with aplomb. Crews’ Snow White is simply dazzling. A formidable combo of Flo from the Progressive commercials, Christina Aguilera, and Dame Julie Andrews, she effortlessly switches from opera singer to rock star to backup singer to late-night host. Her audience asides and interactions are perfect, and even her improvisation is incredible. Crews is an impeccable powerhouse, and in turn empowering. She rails against the male gaze with excellent energy and effervescence, and because of that audiences will have a hard time taking their eyes off of her. “Do I look like I need to wait for my prince…to come?”
Don’t wait for your Prince to come. See Disenchanted! now.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Disenchanted!” at he Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, through June 5. Shows are Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm (no matinee on June 1), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm and 6 pm (no evening performance on May 22 and May 29). More information and tickets ($35.75-$78.75) are available by phone at 800-777-2000 or online here.