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BWW Review: ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME at Shakespeare Theatre Company


World premiere runs until January 9, 2022

BWW Review: ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Aisha Jackson, Morgan Weed, Briga Heelan, Ashley Chiu, and Lauren Zakrin in Once Upon a One More Time. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Britney Spears is arguably one of the most influential pop stars of our time. The Princess of Pop's power anthems resonate with themes of empowerment under the dance beats. A musical inspired by Britney Spears' hits is long overdue for the singer's dedicated fanbase. Fans finally have their wishes granted with the artistic direction of Keone and Mari Madrid and book by Jon Hartmere. The Princess of Pop meets fairytale princesses in the world premiere of Once Upon a One More Time, at Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall.

The musical is set in a kingdom ruled by Narrator (Michael McGrath) who controls all fairy tales with the wave of his quill. It's always happily ever after over and over again. While her fellow princesses, including her bestie Snow White (Aisha Jackson), are fine with their stories, Cinderella (Briga Heelan) wonders if there is more to life than cleaning up after her stepfamily and marrying Prince Charming (Justin Guarini). The Original Fairy Godmother, aka the Notorious OFG, (Brooke Dillman) gives Cinderella a copy of Betty Friedman's The Feminine Mystique, a catalyst for a princess strike. As they say in the show, "Well-behaved princesses seldom make history."

BWW Review: ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Briga Heelan, Emily Skinner, Tess Soltau, and MiMi Scardulla in Once Upon a One More Time.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

These storybook characters are by no means cookie cutter - there is wine drinking, secret affairs, and Scroll Club. The musical's story is a bit more Grimm than Disney as the princesses and other familiar fairytale characters struggle to find their voices against the Narrator and his patriarchal world. The set, designed by Anna Fleischle, transforms seamlessly into palaces and forests with the assistance of beautifully done projections by Sven Ortel. It is almost reminiscent of old illustrated storybooks. Although, there are some elements of Once Upon a One More Time that feel inspired by Disney. The costumes, designed by Loren Elstein, evoke the bright color palette of beloved Disney classics.

This cast is worthy of Broadway. Heelan shines as a feminist version of Cinderella. Her transformation into a leader of the princess movement doesn't go unnoticed. She clearly channels her inner Britney, especially during the song, "Womanizer," where she teams up with Jackson's passionate vocals as Snow White. Guarini's Prince Charming turns up the charm with his boy band rendition of "Oops...I Did It Again." Dillman's OFG is uproariously funny and witty, which is refreshing for a fairy godmother, a role that isn't traditionally cast in a comical light.

BWW Review: ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Justin Guarini (center) and the cast of Once Upon a One More Time. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The iconic Britney songs are ever present in Once Upon a One More Time. The best numbers are the high-energy numbers that make you feel like you are in the club. "Work Bitch," "Circus," Womanizer," and "I Wanna Go All the Way" are full of sharp choreography and powerful vocal performances. You'll want to keep dancing and singing, even after these numbers are over.

This modern fairytale is missing something that even the magic of a fantastic cast and high-quality production might not be able to fix. A Cinderella-focused story can only go so far, especially as it has been done time and time again. This story calls for more inclusion. A LGBTQ love story shouldn't just briefly take centerstage. All princesses and princes should have their voices woven into this story and have their aha moments with The Feminine Mystique.

Once Upon a One More Time is close to "happily ever after," but it has some workshopping to do before it becomes a fairy tale fit for Broadway royalty.

Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 20-minute intermission

Once Upon a One More Time runs until January 9, 2022 at STC's Sidney Harman Hall - 610 F Street NW Washington, DC 20004. Tickets can be purchased here.

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