by MIKE CHAIKEN
Stage shows with a socio-political agenda can sometimes be a drag.
After all, you buy your ticket to a show, plop down in the seat, and want to be entertained. You don’t necessarily want to be lectured—even if it’s handled by a chorus of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, and a recorded orchestra.
“Disenchanted,” the comedy musical that made its U.S. tour premiere at The Bushnell on Sept. 30, has a definite pro-independent woman socio-political agenda. But it’s delivered in a velvet glove, allowing itself to be, above all else, entertaining — allowing its poignant message to slip in sideways through the ears and across the eyeballs.
And frankly, the message of “Disenchanted” is also what makes it great fun.
“Disenchanted” offers a musical deconstruction of the fairy tale princesses we know from all of Disney’s animated features. In “Disenchanted,” rather than be placated with their lot in life of waiting on Prince Charming and dreams of marriage and happily ever after, these princesses are miffed and “disenchanted” with how they are portrayed by Hollywood and what is expected of them in this male-dominated fairy tale world.
The critique of fairy tales is not new. There have been plenty of missives about the harm inflicted on young girls and women by the well-scrubbed Disney pantheon of princesses. If you scan across your Facebook wall each day, you’re bound to see an article or posted by your enlightened friends.
But, frankly, “Disenchanted” works much better at broaching the topic than a web-based op-ed.
First of all, the show is a show. It’s enjoyable. It’s entertaining. It’s funny. It’s not some droning bore with a wine glass lecturing you at a cocktail party.
Secondly, the music is fun. Creator Dennis T. Giacino has a great gift for invoking the sound of Broadway and Disney movie soundtracks. You’re taken along the journey toward enlightened by catchy tunes.
Thirdly, the lyrics are clever, intelligent, insightful, hilarious, a bit naughty, and delightfully convey the message.
And, finally, the performers on stage at The Bushnell – Anna Paula Bautista, Merritt Crews, Miriam Drysdale, Madison Hayes-Crook, Daniella Richards, and Cherise Thomas–were all fabulous. They’re great singers. They’re great comedians.
My favorite moments in “Disenchanted” were the songs that did the best job at asking questions about the princesses. For instance, “Mulan’s Song” (sung by Bautista) asks, what if the princess was a lesbian—after all where was her prince—and allows her to embrace this twist on sexuality.
Everyone also loved the ensemble number (with a name inappropriate for a family newspaper), which noted how busty Disney princesses are drawn—and how they are often drawn by men. There were some great visual gags to go along with the choreography.
I also loved how “Insane,” sung by Belle of “The Beauty and the Beast” (performed by Drysdale) had me questioning the mental health of a young woman held captive in a castle who begins to talk to candelabras and teapots and eventually weds an animal.
I went into the show, frankly, not knowing what to expect by “Disenchanted.” I wasn’t even aware that there might be a pro-woman agenda being pushed in the guise of disenfranchised by Disney princesses. But, by the end of the night I was laughing and having a good time with a cast that clearly was having as much fun as its audience.
I give “Disenchanted” 3 ½ out of 4 stars.
The show continues Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. For tickets, go to Bushnell.org