BWW Review: MAD THEATRE OF TAMPA'S DISENCHANTED DELIGHTS, DISSECTS THE PRINCESS COMPLEX AT JAEB THEATRE at Straz Center For The Performing Arts
mad Theatre of Tampa did it again!
Launching Thursday night was Disenchanted at Jaeb Theatre, a fabulous, bawdy, vaudevillian, royal cabaret featuring ten disillusioned princesses revealing what truly happens after happily-ever-after.
The ladies from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty and the Beast," "Mulan," "The Little Mermaid," "Pocahontas," "The Princess Who Kissed the Frog," "Rapunzel," and "Aladdin," took on the man who commercialized and exploited their characters.
These were no damsels in distress!
Expertly directed by Michelle Knight, the actress who originated Snow White in the musical, this sidesplitting, modern take on beloved fairytales, repeatedly flipped a middle finger to Walt Disney and the patriarchy who metamorphosed them into insecure, tiny-waisted, full-breasted, forever-fasting sexualized women who desperately needed a man to survive.
While a grumpy Snow White, an apparent narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty, and a sweet airhead Cinderella led the revue, each princess got an equal chance to shine in the spotlight - to showcase their superb comedy chops and powerhouse vocals while dissecting the unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection called the "commercial princess complex."
The trio's "A Happy Tune?" is now my new favorite song for several reasons any wife can relate to, and specifically, the interactions of three with Sleeping Beauty on kazoo and Cinderella on the triangle, bleeping out the untoward language.
Lisa Prieto, as Snow White hit high notes that I didn't know existed. Her mixture of comedy, charm, and cheekiness made her irresistible to watch on stage. The opening number, "One More Happ'ly Ever After," was both funny and previewed just how high that gorgeous voice could go.
Sydney Reddish was pure ditzy perfection as Snow White's sidekick. Her fantastic performance in "All I Want to Do Is Eat," where Princesses were expected to keep their waistlines as small as their necks, and her reaction to a potato chip baited in front of her made me nearly snort the tea I was drinking from laughing so hard. Sydney was born to play Cinderella.
Pairing the voice of a belter with a natural comedian, Heather Lynn Mendoza was incredible as the appropriately named loud snorer Sleeping Beauty. Heather not only sang like an angel, but she also gave looks that had us rolling in the aisles.
Jamie Lynn Gilliam, as a bound Belle, was another comedic gem. When she opened her scene with "My name is Belle, and I come from a small provincial town in the north of France, and yet I speak in an American accent, and I don't know why," you knew the barbs were going to be flying. If you look up LOL in my (imaginary) dictionary, you'd see Jamie's performance.
Kay Brown, portraying Mulan, came out as one of the funniest females without a mate. Kay showed us that not all princesses desire a prince and are better for being their true self. Kay enchanted with a magnificent voice and naughty one-liners.
Melanie Simpson, as The Little Mermaid, was another hysterical moment in this production of nonstop laughs. As a lush who hates her human legs, Melanie drank from her flask, writhed around the stage, reminiscent of a professional stripper making the audience dissolve into laughter. "I can't believe I swapped the seven seas for a prince and a pair of these," she belted in "Two Legs."
Yalexi Miro, as Pocohantas, the only character loosely based on a real person, slowed down the fast pace to lit into the men that gave her vavavoom in a shortened deerskin dress with skin exposed, the love interest of John Smith instead of being an actual innocent ten-year-old child. Yalexi's lovely "Honestly," asked, "why wasn't my story told honestly?"
NaTasha McKeller, sparkling in green and gold, knew how to deliver. "In Finally," she owned the stage as The Princess who kissed the frog. "Why'd it take 'em so long to give a sistah a song?" she posed to the audience while reaching goosebump-worthy notes.
Rapunzel took on a dominatrix theme in the gloved hands of the exceptional Michelle Hakes. The unibrow'd fraulein broke the fourth wall to interact directly with the audience in the humorous call-to-action song "Not V'One Red Cent," telling how the Princesses made no money over the use of their branded images. Her exit from the stage pulling and pulling on her long braid was asterisked in my notes as another fun, silly moment.
Not only did Disenchanted thoroughly entertain, but it also was enlightening. I didn't know the princess in "Aladdin" went by a name other than Jasmin. While flying around on a cleverly-designed magic carpet, Adriane Falcon, as Princess Badroulbadour beautifully sang just how she was a victim of Middle Eastern misogyny. "Back home, I'm not even allowed to drive this thing," she quipped.
Any time the full cast was together on stage, particularly "Big Tits" and "Perfect," the voice blended seamlessly, and we were enchanted.
Skillful choreography by Justin Batten, Erin Coalson, and Michelle, lighting by Anthony Vito, and costumes by Meli Mossey gave magic to the characters, complemented an impressive minimal set (your eyes were on the actresses) by Dwayne A. Cline, and live music led with precision by Sarah Tellier.
One of my many highlights in a night of only high points in this wonderful, hilarious performance was sitting behind the co-creators Dennis Giacino and Fiely Matias, watching them react to the action on stage. It was easy to see that they loved Michelle's vision as much as the rest of the audience. As a playwright, the informative talkback after with Dennis, Fiely, Michelle, and the cast was the best way possible to end such a successful opening night. This special musical - a show directed, musically-directed, and stage-managed by women - offered an immediate sense of female empowerment by male writers who were proud to call themselves feminists. I especially liked and truly respected that they required - not suggested - a rainbow of women of all shapes, sizes, hair colors, and ethnicities cast - score one for Girl Power.
Drop what you are doing, turn off Disney+ and get your tickets to see these talented princesses in action and learn what happened long after the fairytale storybook closed.