Review: Croswell's 'Disenchanted' welcomes back audiences with laughter and girl power
Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House
This isn’t how your grandparents remember Disney princesses, and honestly that’s a good thing. Welcoming back audiences inside their mainstage for the first time since March 2020, The Croswell’s lively and engaging production of “Disenchanted” is the type of low stakes, high brow humor that’ll give eager theatergoers a night to remember. What the show lacks in plot, it makes up for in energy. Originally produced off-Broadway in 2014 and written by Dennis T. Giacino and Fiely Matias, "Disenchanted" is conceived as an intimate cabaret for smaller venues where patrons could literally feel the heat from the performers. Though it might not translate as well to a bigger venue like The Croswell’s stage, the nearly sold-out crowd on Saturday night was hooting and hollering the whole time; and this incredible cast of performers and crew have tailored the show for maximum efficiency.
“Disenchanted” refreshingly deconstructs and literally rewrites the book on just exactly what it means to be a princess, or, more specifically, one under the Disney umbrella. Always viewed as damsels in distress, or awaiting a Prince Charming to waltz in and save the day with a smooch, the show's primary emcees’ Snow White (Tallie Carter), Cinderella (Sarah Pettee), and Sleeping Beauty (Jessica Doughetry) want to set the record straight. The innuendos run plenty, which, should you choose to bring them, will likely fly over the kiddo’s heads, but “Disenchanted” is rooted in girl power and positivity. Not many shows are produced (hell, even written) with an all female cast and The Croswell’s “Disenchanted” is a step in the right direction for that bar of inclusiveness.
Directed by Jen Letherer, whose clear admiration for the show spills on stage, “Disenchanted” boasts a hilarious catalog of songs where all the majors, in addition to the emcees’, like Hua Mulan (Andraya Bunton); Belle (Sydney Bramlett); The Little Mermaid (Riolana Doyle); Pocahontas (Gabrielle Blondin); The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Crystal Lynn); Princess Badlroulbadour (aka Jasmine played by Marissa Gonzalez); and Rapunzel (also played by Doughtery); get their own ballads and sing about a variety of grievances. Belle gripes about cleaning up her husband’s crap (literally) and the talking furniture roaming her home, and The Little Mermaid complains of having two legs and how life above the sea isn’t all it's cracked up to be. While Mulan’s song gets down to business on her sexual orientation, The Princess Who Kissed the Frog waltzes on stage (almost stealing the show) and accosts Disney for taking nearly a century for creating the studio’s first African-American princess; and Princess Badroulbadour tackles cultural appropriation.
Of course, “Disenchanted” legally gets away with using each character’s likeness and carefully tweaks names so as to not be intruded upon by the long arm of Disney, but these performers step into the glass slippers, ball gowns, and personalities with ease. Doing the most with a minimalist script and sans a major conflict, Snow White, Cindrella and Sleeping Beauty get the primary spotlight, leaving some of the others sidelined (granted, the original production had six performers and doubled up the casting). The true winners are the characterizations and what each actress brings to their roles; Carters’ Snow White is the energetic ringleader and curator alongside Pettee’s ditzy Cinderella who is in charge of keeping the show moving, meanwhile Dougherty’s Sleeping Beauty, naturally, has a bad case of narcolepsy. The trio of performers are tasked with making sure the show ends at a decent time because “nobody wants to stick around until midnight,” and what fun is it watching them let loose and maneuver through a tight 2 hour runtime (with intermission).
Likewise there is praise for Bramlett’s tethering-on-the-edge of insanity Belle; Bunton’s eager and thirsty Mulan; Doyle’s repressed (alcoholic) Little Mermaid; Blondin’s misunderstood Pocahontas; Lynn’s fed-up Princess Who Kissed the Frog; Gonzalez’s sassy Princess Badroulbadour; and Dougherty’s barbarian like Rapunzel (who’s second act opening number “Not Vone Red Cent” gets the audience engaged).
On the technical side, Kevin Foster’s music direction, which only calls for a three piece orchestra, booms (and reminds audiences how nice it is to hear live music again), as does Emily Hribar’s swell choreography, Dave Nelms first-rate scenic work, Chris Goosman’s stellar sound design, and Pam Krage’s costuming which outfits the princess with their classic looks but tweaks the model just slightly to allow each character some individuality.
But at the end of the day, watching a group of princesses (played by these commendable performers) taking control of their own identity, dishing the tea, and rightfully throwing the middle finger to how society thinks they should act and behave marks a bold return to The Croswell stage. Who said happily ever afters don’t exist?
The Croswell’s production of “Disenchanted” continues Thursday, July 15th through Sunday, July 18th. Tickets can be purchased at Croswell.org