With a portfolio that includes Pixar, Lucasfilm (i.e., the Star Wars empire), Marvel, ABC, ESPN, Touchstone Pictures and the Muppets, these days Disney is the very definition of market-capturing, multinational modernity. It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that Walt built Disney on a firm foundation of bygone fairy tale movies like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. What do all those films have in common? They all contributed substantially to — or as some believe, created — the Princess Complex.
In case you let your subscription to Psychology Today expire or simply don’t have any young daughters, the Princess Complex (or Syndrome, in some circles) posits that traditional princess stories warp girls’ minds and damage their self-esteem by placing undue emphasis on women’s appearances, by defining women solely as motivations for or goals of men’s quests, and by tying a woman’s worth exclusively to the roles of object of desire, wife or mother.
Musical theater might not spring first to mind as a milieu for mounting a defense against the Princess Complex, but that is precisely the raison d’etre of the rambunctious, grrrl-power comedy Disenchanted. Tired of being objectified and marginalized — even in their own stories — a passel of Disney princesses storm the stage to take the piss out of the phallocentric hegemony. As that description suggests, if Disenchanted were done seriously, it might be a bit much to bear, but because its tone remains as light and airy as a fairy godmother and it piles laugh upon bawdy laugh, Disenchanted is positively enchanting.
Illuminated by wonderful old-school-done-new clamshell footlights courtesy of Scenic Designer Amy Campion, Snow White (Jessica Hindsley), Cinderella (Tracy Warren) and Sleeping Beauty (Annie Dwyer) put on a variety show of sorts during which a long list of princesses get to speak their mind and say their piece. The opening number, “One More Happily Ever After,” makes the ladies’ intentions clear with at least half a dozen suicide threats, nearly as many sexual innuendos and a visual shoutout to Charlie’s Angels. Needless to say, Disenchanted is not for the kiddies. This is strictly adults-only fare.
BDT Stage mainstay (and Disenchanted’s director), Alicia K. Meyers, kicks the cavalcade of cartoon-inspired lunacy off as a straight-jacketed Belle from Beauty and the Beast. A life surrounded by talking housewares and filled with cleaning up after a beast (think curbing your dog) has driven her understandably insane. The “beautiful and dutiful” Hua Mulan (Marijune Scott), or as she dubs herself, “the painted whore of Chinese lore,” sings of her sorrows, and in a surprising move — at least for those of us who have never seen her movie — makes a strong case that she is, in fact, a lesbian.
A drunk, angry Ariel of The Little Mermaid fame (Meyers again), decked out in ripped fishnet stockings and strategically-placed seashells (complete with Batman Forever-style articulated nipples), can’t believe she traded the freedom of the sea for a pair of legs she has to shave twice a week and a worthless man. The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Anna High) sarcastically celebrates the overdue appearance of an African-American princess, aka “the fairy tale Jackie Brown.” And that’s just to namecheck a few of the plethora of princesses who take the stage.
Every actress shines in different ways — Hindsley gives Snow White a Shannon Doherty circa 90210 bitchiness and has a nice set of pipes; Warren nails the exaggerated, breathy princess voice. But the jewel-encrusted tiara goes to Annie Dwyer’s Princess Ambien, I mean Sleeping Beauty. Very much like a female Wayne Kennedy — and I mean that as the highest compliment — Dwyer sticks out her tongue, rolls her eyes and mugs it up with joyous abandon. She’s the highlight of virtually every one of her scenes.
As one expects from BDT Stage, all the technical elements, from Campion’s costumes to the props and the playing of the live band, are spot on. Combined with maximum effort from the director and cast, it’s no wonder there wasn’t an empty seat in the house on the night I attended, and I wouldn’t be surprised if tickets are hard to come by as word of Disenchanted’s dominance gets around.
With laments about the burden of being drawn by sexually-frustrated men (the hilarious number “Big Tits”) and an overall feeling of raunchy empowerment, Disenchanted delivers.
On the Bill: Disenchanted. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-449-6000. Through May 6.