By Oline H. Cogdill
“Happily ever after”—those three words end just about every fairy tale in which a young woman, who has just been saved by a handsome prince, instantly falls in love and then marries him.
But then what?
The what next is the musical Disenchanted, a highly entertaining, hysterical, irreverent, clever, poignant, profane, with several bits of profanity, reimagining of what happened to these princesses. Disenchanted, making its South Florida premiere at MNM Theatre Company, runs through May 27 at the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
On its own, Disenchanted is a delightful romp that has had successful, award-winning productions in New York City’s Off Broadway, London, Paris, other U.S. cities and some 14 international countries.
MNM immediately elevates its Disenchanted by assembling some of South Florida’s best musical-comedy actresses: Aaron Bower, Shelley Keelor, Leah Sessa, Kat Gold, Ashley Rubin—women I would drive pretty much anywhere to view—rounded out with Jinon Deeb and Vallery Valentine.
According to the script, “These women are not the Disney princesses! They are the women from the original fairy tales based on Grimm, Perrault, de Villeneuve, historic accounts and legend.”
Disenchanted shows a different side of the fairy tale princesses, many of whom have been featured in Disney films.
So keep in mind, Disenchanted is definitely not for children under 12 years old, most of whom would not understand the songs’ context or the adult situations and language.
But girls around 12 years old are about the right age to begin understanding and benefit from the themes of Disenchanted such as being independent, learning who you are, dealing with eating disorders and body images and that women do not need a man to complete them.
Okay, those are pretty heady themes. And, yes, Disenchanted is hysterically funny. Expect a lot of bad puns that work and some audience participation.
These storybook characters in fractured fairytales are out to deconstruct “the Princess Complex,” which the original script states is that “tired old notion that a woman is only valid and desirable if she is a ditzy, insecure, Bambi-like waif; a helpless damsel in distress who does nothing more than sit around and wait for her prince to come.”
Disenchanted gives each member of this ensemble a chance to show their singing and acting talents as well as to showcase what game comediennes each is. Each actress makes us laugh while being caught up in the story.
Shelley Keelor as Snow White is the emcee/leader of the group, setting the scene as the various princesses show why they are not happy in the ways they have been portrayed in films and books; that they are so much more than the princes, most of whose names no one can remember, and are that the women are disenfranchised from their stories.
Aaron Bower plays the perpetually exhausted Sleeping Beauty. “Sleepy,” as she’s nicknamed, can barely keep her eyes open, even missing her time to sing. “Perfect” allows Sleepy to deal with her self-confidence.
Leah Sessa doubles as The Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. As Belle, Sessa is in a straight-jacket, singing “Insane,” about how living with talking household item and picking up her husband’s poop have put her on the edge. Sessa’s Little Mermaid is a bit of a tattooed, punk rocker, who drinks too much, swears and laments giving up her tail for two legs, taking away her fun swimming with other fishes and diving under the sea, all because she met a “cute guy” in “Two Legs.”
Kat Gold’s depictions of Mulan and Rapunzel are very different. As Hua Mulan, Gold sings about the perception of Asian girls and comes out as she sings, with much pride, as she realizes why she is the only princess who doesn’t have a prince in “Without the Guy.” Her completely different Rapunzel is a stern Bavarian who rouses the audience in “Not Vone Red Cent” in protest about why none of these princesses benefit from licensing their images.
Ashley Rubin nails the scatter-brained Cinderella who is so tired of those uncomfortable shoes and is often Snow White’s assistant, on stage almost as much as Keelor. Cinderella is akin to a Greek Chorus, in a very short dress.
Jinon Deeb states that too often the inaccurate myth of Pocahontas is based on her anatomy in “Big Tits,” with hysterical backup from Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Deeb then poignantly sings about the real Pocahontas who was only a child not a sex symbol in “Honestly,” Deeb switches gears as Princess Badroulbadour from Aladdin with “Secondary Princesses.”
Vallery Valentine as the Princess Who Kissed the Frog is a show stopper with “Finally,” the end song of the first act, in which she gloriously sings that she’s “that storybook princess that’s finally gone black.” Valentine was a revelation as the lead in MNM’s 2022 production of Sister Act, and we want to see more of this talented actresses.
The Princesses also have several group numbers such as the rousing “All I Wanna Do Is Eat” that addresses eating disorders.
MNM’s Disenchanted is smoothly directed by Jonathan Van Dyke and musically directed by Bobby Peaco, who leads the lively three-piece band with him on the piano, Rupert Ziawinski on bass and Julie Jacobs on drums. Penny Williams’ costumes are worthy of royalty. MNM’s managing director Jordon Armstrong’s minimalist set allows Disenchanted to work as vaudeville act and he leads the set, lighting and sound design team of Karalyn Fitzgerald and Justin Thompson.
MNM Theatre Company’s Disenchanted runs through May 27 Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Running time two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $55 to $65. For tickets, contact mnmtheatre.org/kravis.org or 561-832-7469.