Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Part of the comedy comes from the book and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino, who points a mildly accusing finger at the swaggering, litigious Disney corporation for making billions of dollars by foisting unreasonable expectations on girls around the world, for the better part of the last century. Mr. Giacino also wrote the music for this (nearly) two-hour show. But when you crowd the stage with ten sweet, funny, clever young women, all dolled up as Disney princesses who are still searching because they've suddenly realized fairy tales are not enough, well, you've got yourself a surprisingly nice little show (probably rated about PG-13). A third component emerges, beyond the book and all the artists, on stage and off: the spontaneous combustion of pride and shame and the (sometimes frantic) determination to live beyond them both.
Justin Been directs the show, which runs through December 21, 2019, with his usual flair. There's a sizzling tribute to Cabaret, which he so deftly re-imagined five years ago; and most of the young women perform thoughtful parodies of each princess' own version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come." The character who actually sang that particular 1937 ditty, Snow White, is played here with impressive comedic and operatic acumen by Kelly Slawson. She buoyantly propels the actionon the premise that her costar Cinderella (funny, raunchy Sarah Gene Dowling) really has to get home before the stroke of midnight.
But the real point is that you can't take your eyes off this carefree little event whenever all ten of the actresses are up there, beseeching and conjuring a real self they can barely imagine, beyond their own suggestive attire. The original lithe, bosomy animated girls must have been drawn, as this show's Pocahontas (cute, knowing Gitana Mims) asserts, by male artists who always seemed to be sexually frustrated. And Princess Badroulbadour (from Aladdin) didn't even have her own story to tell, as Eleanor Humphrey points out in the song, "Secondary Princess." At least she gets her own beautifully designed Arabian nights gown, by Eileen Engel, who evokes each princess with startling attention to detail.
Other favorites include (but are not limited to) Stephanie Merritt as a tipsy Little Mermaid, Madeline Black as a crazed Belle, and Erika Cockerham as a dominatrix version of Rapunzel. Sleeping Beauty is dogged by a bad case of narcolepsy, as drawn by elegant, funny Dawn Schmid. But ultimately, she wakes up to manage her own power ballad in "A Happy Tune?." My only criticism is that some of the other numbers could use a little more volume and a dash more enunciation.
On another level, Disenchanted strongly resembles a very elaborate drag show, full of spangles and frowzy attitude. Thirty years ago you'd always have a "Judy" drag queen (Candy James in St. Louis) and a "Liza" drag queen (Terri Jons), with the unspoken understanding that they were regal icons, like princessesboth trying to express something common to all gay men in a more repressive, fearful time, and perhaps guide the way. Here, it's young women who are forced into (beautiful but) ridiculous princess drag. And they, too, skate close to becoming Fellini-esque clowns in the process. So perhaps the gay rights movement has finally paid the women's liberation movement back a small part of the debt it owes, with a show like thismerging drag and divas. In similar fashion, in Disenchanted each young woman transcends mockery, to free the girl inside.
Disenchanted runs through December 21, 2019, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, visit www.straydogtheatre.org
Cast (in order of appearance):