What should have been a fun romp is compromised with an out-of-touch script
A sendup musical based on Disney princesses sometime after their origin story sounds like an engaging premise for a fun night at the theatre. Unfortunately, Disenchanted doesn’t quite cut it. The fault is not with the talented cast at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, but rather with a problematic script that doesn’t live up to its promise.
The premise of Disenchanted is that the Disney Princesses are hosting a tell-all revue, led by Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. They are supported by other princesses from Disney Movies, ostensibly giving you a real view of what “Happily Ever After” is like. Namely, that it isn’t all that happy.
It starts out well enough, and the first number, “One More Happ’ly Ever After,” is amusing, even clever. Snow White (Abby McInerney) is really the lead, and she has lots of charisma and good comic timing. Then the rest of the princesses parade their woes. Belle is in a straight-jacket because of all the talking furniture and housewares, the Little Mermaid wants her fins back, Mulan is actually a lesbian.
It sounds like it all should be funny, but something is just a bit off.
Then comes an uncomfortable racist moment, where Sleeping Beauty introduces Pochahontas while wearing a full native headdress, smoking and chanting Tonto-esque fake Native American war cries. The fact that Snow White then proceeds to point out that it is offensive does not excuse either its blatant racism or its offensiveness. This is not the only racist moment in the show, but it’s certainly the worst.
After the princess from Princess and the Frog (Anna High) sings “Finally,” which is about Disney finally introducing a black princess, my daughter turned to me and said, “This sounds like it was written by a white person.” That got me trying to put my finger on what was “off” about the whole thing, a feeling that continued after the intermission when the princesses all sing about how they aren’t ever allowed to eat and are therefore obsessed with food. It culminated when Sleeping Beauty (LuAnn Buckstein) finally sings her own song, “Perfect,” about how all women are perfect just as they are.
A white-male take
Years ago, I saw a play about retail and service workers, that was clearly written by someone who had never been either and had no idea what was or was not funny or worth satirizing about those careers — likely for an audience that wouldn’t know either. Since I was a retail manager for many years, it all rang false to me at the time. Disenchanted was like that, clearly written by someone who didn’t really know what the issues were.
My sneaking suspicion was confirmed when we got to the car and looked up the playwright. Yep, a white man. I don’t think any white man should be writing an entire play pretending to examine Disney’s treatment of women and feminism. And that’s to say nothing of the experiences of women of color.
I needed one more white man’s hot take on this like I needed a hole in the head.
So much is missed that a female playwright would likely have drawn out of the story. Sleeping Beauty is an older woman, which would have been great had the subject of aging been examined at all. The songs about body image miss the mark because, well, they are written by a man who thinks that’s how women think (about food and “big tits”). And why, for the love of God, does the skinny, pretty Cinderella have to be portrayed as stupid? It makes the whole cast look like unwitting participants in internalized misogyny.
The other underlying issue is that the whole thing is mean-spirited. Playwright Dennis Giacino may be bitter from his experience as a former Disney World cast member, but making fun of Disney movies, particularly the older ones, is like shooting fish in a barrel. Disney knows this, which is why modern heroines are like Merida, a crack shot who isn’t ready to get married yet, or Elsa, who sings a much better song about perfectionism (rather than telling us we are all perfect just as we are, it tells us we never needed to be perfect in the first place). The best satire has a level of affection for its target. There is none of that here, merely a smug, undeserved superiority. Giacino doesn’t know what it’s like to want to wear Cinderella’s beautiful dress and still be acknowledged for having a brain in your head, but most women do.
It’s really a shame, because the cast is talented, and everything is sung well. There are some moments that are genuinely funny. I just wish all the talent had been put to better use.
Be warned that if you do go, this is strictly for adults, not children — even older ones. I had thought upon entering that perhaps I would return with my 12-year-old stepdaughter, but even setting everything else aside, the performance is very adult in nature. It did make for a really interesting discussion afterward with my daughter (age 27), but I don’t know that I would consider that a reason to watch this.