Book / Music / Lyrics: Dennis T. Giacino
Director: Tom Jackson Greaves
Wise-cracking and fiercely political, Disenchanted is a musical that pulls no punches. First staged in 2012, Dennis T. Giacino’s show explores – and disassembles – what we think we know about our favourite storybook princesses.
In an online special, our hosts for the evening are Snow White (a fabulously acerbic Jodie Steele), Cinderella (Sophie Isaacs) and Sleeping Beauty (Allie Daniel). They aim to show us that the princesses are not necessarily living their best “happily ever after” life. Dissatisfied, disgruntled – these princesses want to tell, not only their side of the story, but how their story came to be misinterpreted, and separated from truth.
Setting the tone is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. Introducing herself as a girl from Northern France, who speaks with an American accent, Belle confesses that living in a fairytale, given the Disney treatment, has its drawbacks. With great comic timing, Aisha Jawando vocalises her rage at being trapped in a Disney-fied castle.
It is this ‘disenchantment’ that defines many of the performances. We get a tipsy, telling-it-like-it-is Ariel from The Little Mermaid (played by Millie O’Connell), and a furious Rapunzel (Jenny O’Leary) who, in Not V’’One Red Cent, demands her cut of the profits made from her image.
Where Disenchanted gets really interesting is when the ‘reality’ of the princesses’ stories is challenged. In a highly charismatic performance by Natalie Chua, we meet the 21st century Hua Mulan. Dressed to kill, this hero/ine ponders why she is the only Disney princess without a boyfriend. She joyfully articulates her truth: being a lesbian does mean rewriting the princess narrative, but creating a story just as influential.
The moments of power keep coming. The production team behind the online special, West End Musical Brunch, has a proven track record in inclusive casting. We have plus-size princesses and princesses of colour. These aren’t token gestures, but meaningful changes. One of the standout moments is when Grace Mouat tells the story of Pocahontas.
Pocahontas features the first Disney princess to be rooted in historical fact, and Mouat considers how her look has been altered. Post-Hollywood makeover, as a glamourised Pocahontas, Mouat sings about how her heritage, her real story, has been sublimated. In a devastating coda, the true fate of Pocahontas is revealed.
Disenchanted, while being a ‘revisionist’ musical like &Juliet and Six, goes that little bit further. In-between the princesses’ stories, we have songs examining sexualisation (Big Tits makes the observation that a princess’ cup size will go up with every sequel) and All I Wanna Do is Eat is a sharp, knowing take on the impossibility of maintaining a regal physique.
This musical steps outside of itself and dares to imagine another reality. The ‘I Want’ songs are a shade or two darker, but these rewritten stories also emphasise the importance of consent and self-acceptance. Disenchanted certainly has its fair share of unhappy endings, but the one it chooses for itself promises an ever after that’s richer, fuller and far more satisfying.
Available here until 11 April 2021