I hadn’t heard of Disenchanted, a satirical look at how Disney has infected our favourite fairy tale Princesses with the ‘Princess Complex’, until I was invited to review it. There is very little information online about the award winning off-Broadway musical written by Dennis T. Giacino. But the concept of an adults-only look at how ‘happy ever after’ really turned out for Snow White and her friends was intriguing.
Directed and Choreographed by Madison Thew-Keyworth, Disenchanted features three central characters; Snow White (played by Ellie Nunan), Cinderella (Courtney Underhill) and Sleeping Beauty (Tayla Johnstone). They reflect upon the reality of life with their Princes (‘One More Happ’ly Ever After’), and the frustration of living with the Disney generated ‘Princess Complex’. Nunan’s Snow White is basically the MC of the evening, and her strong portrayal of a somewhat bitter, but still refined Snow White is a pleasure to behold. Underhill shows her dance background with some very impressive physical comedy and embodies Cinderella’s ditzy nature (and shares her obsession with food in ‘All I Want to Do is Eat’). Johnstone’s Sleeping Beauty has amusing issues with political correctness (or lack thereof) and gives us a welcome dose of female empowerment with a powerful performance of ‘Perfect’.
The three leading ladies are joined by The Little Mermaid, Belle and Rapunzel (played by Demi Phillips), Hua Mulan, Pocohontas, Princess Badroulbadour – better know these days as Princess Jasmine (Jennifer Trijo) and The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Asabi Goodman). They lament their circumstances through music and comedy. Phillip’s expressively uses her whole body as well as her voice to humorously share Ariel’s sacrifice with ‘Two Legs’ and Belle’s consequences for living in a ‘disney-fied’ world in ‘Insane’.
Trijo brings Mulan out of the closet in ‘Without the Guy’ and creates a poignant moment with ‘Honestly’, a reflection on just how much the movie distorted the reality of Pocahontas. Trijo’s portrayal of her three characters gives her ample opportunity to demonstrate her powerful voice and expressive range. Goodman celebrates finally bringing some ‘colour’ to Disney with ‘Finally’ and showcases her vocal versatility.
Vocally, the entire cast is strong, and harmonise well, especially Nunan, Underhill and Johnstone. Disenchanted, which was Musically Directed by Bradley McCaw, presents a range of musical styles, and all are handled with aplomb. The cast are accompanied by 3 musicians on keyboard, bass and drums and the sound is balanced well. It was particularly pleasing to be able to clearly understand all the lyrics, which contained most of the comedic content.
Disenchanted is a show that is centred around the interactions, comedy and singing of the characters, with little need for a complex set or props. The stage is set quite simply, with the band on stage on each side of the stage, a traditional draped theatre curtain at the rear and strands of fairy lights as decoration. Upon occasion, the characters carry small props relevant to their character – a mirror or bird for Snow White, a broomstick for Cinderella…perhaps Belle’s straitjacket is less obvious. The few larger props have a homemade feel, like sets from a primary school play, which is obviously intentional. What seems less intentional is the slightly disappointing nature of some of the costumes. Snow Whites costume was excellent. It fit well and highlighted recognisable aspects of the familiar Snow-White image, while modernising and personalising it. Some of the costume choices, like Cinderella’s exposed pantaloons, seem odd. Photos of the off-Broadway performance, however, show the design seems to be dictated. Some costumes, like Sleeping Beauty’s were quite bland and others fitted poorly.
It is always a pleasure to discover something new that really resonates with you. While some reviews of the US show criticise Disenchanted for being heavy-handed with the feminist angle of the humour, I suspect they may have been written by men. From a female, (and admittedly feminist) perspective, it was both vindicating, and highly entertaining to see the entertainment industry being called on some of their more misogynistic design choices in such a thoroughly amusing way. And the males in the audience seemed to find it just as entertaining!
You don’t have to be a Disney movie fan to appreciate this musical – I have seen very few actually. If you enjoy a very healthy dose of humour with your music, appreciate skilful female vocals and harmony, and have at least a modicum of pop culture knowledge about the Disney Princesses, you will love Disenchanted.
Disenchanted is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre for two more performances on Saturday 8th September.
*Images from preview season in Noosa.
Photo credit: Rick Monk