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Reimagining ‘happily ever after’ isn’t exactly a new concept. Everyone from ABC’s Once Upon a Time to YouTube’s Jon Cozart has had a go reconfiguring fairytale stories in a fresh and postmodern way. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some fun to be found.
Disenchanted, a new Zoom-based production written by Dennis T. Giacino, takes the well-trod concept and infuses it with a musical cabaret flair. One after one, well-known princesses step up to the mic and lament the disconnect between their origins and their beloved Disney-ifications, mixing bombastic vocals with laugh-a-line ironic retellings of their famous tales. It’s a lot of fun … especially if you’re a fan of another all-girl postmodern pop-concert …
Really, the comparisons to SIX just write themselves: well-known female figures retroactively changing their stories but with modern sensibilities, a litany of pop-culture references, and non-stop riffs and belts? Just substitute Anne Boleyn with the Little Mermaid and you get the gist.
That said, this isn’t a bad thing. Like SIX, Disenchanted is some saccharine, high-energy fun that balances musical joy with entry-level feminist theory. Built around the ‘Princess Complex’ (the damaging idea that young girls are holding themselves to unachievable standards set by Disney films), the production is quick to find moments of light activism between the showstopping musical numbers. Sometimes this borders slightly too close to Instagram-era slactivism (at one point, the cast tear up signs that read ‘Diet Plans’ and ‘Social Media Pressure’), but it’s strangely endearing that this high-profile show would dedicate itself to both progressive causes and musical glee.
Stranger still, there’s also a meta-textual engine at work. Beneath all the smutty asides and risque references, the princesses waste no opportunity to stick it Old Man Disney, calling out his entertainment behemoth for white-washing characters (The Princess Who Kissed a Frog), misrepresenting cultures (Princess Badroulbadour/’Jasmine’), and ‘sanitising’ stories beyond recognition (Pocahontas). But, then in the same breath, they’ll poke fun at the various plot holes of the Magic Kingdom (sings Belle, “I’m the only princess who has to clean up their husband’s poo!”). To some, this break-neck oscillation between high-art commentary and low-art parody is the pinnacle of entertainment; to others, its tonal whiplash too dissonant to enjoy.
Still, the bumpy tone is easy to overlook when the cast has such vocal acuity and magnetic charisma. Really, the show is a “who’s who” of powerhouse performers: Aisha Jawando, Sophie Isaacs, Millie O’Connell, Grace Mouat; seemingly every starlet of the West End scene has signed on to this fairytale cabaret, and they fire on all cylinders. Belt after belt, harmony after harmony, ballad after ballad — aided by Giacino’s joke-a-minute lyrics, the cast never fail to deliver humour and pizazz, even if the whole experience does feel akin to a faux-feminist sugar-rush.
Disenchanted doesn’t break new ground: whether through the limitations of the Zoom-based format, or how its predecessors do slightly more with the concept, the production isn’t wholly original or impressively inventive. What it is, though, is a top-tapping good time that brings enough social progressiveness and political awareness to not just be superficial fizz; there are spoonfuls of medicine that help the sugar go down.
Disenchanted is available online until 11 April 2021. For more information and tickets visit Stream.Theatre online.