They meet their princes, get married very quickly and live happily ever after. Or so we’re told about the Disney princesses.
Not so, according to the princesses featured in ‘Disenchanted’ at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts’ Belding Theatre in Hartford.
Their sides of the stories are much more twisted and grim.
Told in a musical revue style, the play features songs by Snow White (Merrit Crews), Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook), Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards), The Little Mermaid, Belle and Rapunzel (all played by Miriam Drysdale), Hua Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour/Jasmine (Ann Paula Bautista) and The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Cherise Thimas).
Snow, Cinderella and Sleeping are your hosts for the evening, telling the audience all about the “Princess Complex.”
Sure, everything might look like a perfect fairytale when you marry a prince, live in a castle and are glamorously dressed and blinged-out royalty. But the princesses paint us a much darker picture. Your whole story is about getting the guy, except in the case of this Mulan, who doesn’t completely get the guy and says she might be a lesbian. Sometimes, as Pocohontas complains, your full and true history isn’t told. You’re expected to be thin-waisted and eat nothing to maintain that figure when all you want are candy bars, Twinkies, hot pockets or burritos. You are big-chested.
But there are some triumphs like The Princess Who Kissed the Frog, who conveniently doesn’t appear until the tail end of the show and whose princess name isn’t given, who represents the princess who is “finally black.” It’s a historical commentary on how long it took for Disney to create a black princess.
Crews is the ringleader of the gig, our main emcee, as Snow, initially coming off as a feisty and dominant feminist and later becoming ironically proper and dainty given the message of the show is showing who the princesses really are and want to be. She fights through the stress of things going wrong in the show and tries to keep everything together. She and Thomas as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog had very powerful vocals and the capability to do complicated riffs and impressed when they hit high notes or held them out long. Thomas’ gospel-style voice was very uplifting.
Hayes-Crook may have been playing a princess, Cinderella, but she was a queen of comedy. Although she is tapped as the stereotypical dumb blonde, she is brilliant in her body language, movements, emotion, expressions and vocal inflection as vehicles of slapstick humor. She kind of seems to take over the show by the end.
Richards was spunky and brassy as the improper Sleeping Beauty and added another layer of comedy. I enjoyed when she and Thomas introduced a more hip hop and modern style of dancing to the princess scene. Hayes-Crook was one of the strongest dancers in the show. There are many dance numbers with a lot of twerking princesses.
Drysdale is hilarious as a drunken and white trash Little Mermaid who wants her fin back and despises her fishnetted legs. Her booming low voice is sultry very suited to the Vaudeville and burlesque tones the show takes at times.
Her song as an insane Belle in a straight jacket got a lot of laughs and is one of the most emotionally expressive songs as she sings about bestiality, cleaning up her husband’s droppings and talking to inanimate objects.
She is scary and dominating with her whip as Rapunzel and it was priceless when Cinderella jump ropes with her hair.
Bautista hilariously plays the socially awkward and unconventional warrior lesbian princess as Mulan and her song defining her character as gay got a lot of laughs.
She also wins the award for best costume, in my eyes, as Princess Badroulbadour,as she is known in Arabian Nights, or more commonly known to us through Disney as Jasmine. It was fun seeing her flit about with the Jasmine outfit on top, a black cloth covering her feet and a magic carpet at her waist with fake legs and feet filed aboard the carpet to give the illusion she is flying.
All the costumes were beautiful, really, most with glitter and significantly shorter than your usual princess garb.
The set is simple, using curtains and themed decor here and there, but the princess characters make the show so it doesn’t matter. Mickey Mouse hands occasionally hand props to the actors and collect them.
This show is comedic and musical royalty.
Seeing these princesses step out of their fairytale and ground their experiences with a dose of reality gives us the same stories we grew up with and love told from a different and more modern perspective. They are fairytales with a twist.
The show is traveling around the country, so catch the princesses while they are still in Hartford. You can take photos with them after the show and tag them on social media. “Disenchanted” runs through Sunday, Oct. 2. More information on tickets is available at http://www.bushnell.org.