Richardson — It’s a calculated gamble, going after the mouse (Mickey, not Mighty) and his franchise’s beloved characters, who are adored by many a young girl with big dreams. Disenchanted!, playing this weekend at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts’ Theatre Series in Richardson, bills itself as “the hilarious hit musical” that takes fairytales’ most famous princesses and blows the castle doors wide open on the real—and very adult—stories behind the crowns."
Sadly, it’s not a gamble that pays off in the end, as this hodgepodge of raunchy humor, tired clichés, and shrieky melodies misses the mark.
For a show that is trying to push the idea that women are more complex and more interesting than “The Princess Complex” wants us to believe, the book and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino rely on some real eye-rollers to try and make the point. It shoehorns each woman into a stereotype while trying to make the audience believe that they’re railing against the system. The concept tries to get meta and subvert itself by the end of the show, but on the whole Disenchanted doesn’t add anything to the conversation—it merely relies on the cheap, lazy laugh.
The cabaret style of the show makes a half-hearted attempt to create a few through lines, but overall feels like a badly paced jumble. Random group numbers only serve to muddle things further, like one that begins as a commercial hawking a faux princess perfume and turns into a strange ode to the ladies’ above-the-belt assets as drawn by male animators. Another speaks to many of the princesses’ German origins and their lack of profit from extreme commercialization, featuring—what else—an awkward audience participation section.
The princesses themselves certainly do give it their collective all and can’t be faulted for the energy they bring to their performances. They’re working the crowd, singing, and dancing throughout the hour and a half, and every actress in the cast has a powerful voice that easily stands alone on stage. But as a result, group numbers feel less like a cohesive ensemble and more like six women singing for their lives, a problem that was exacerbated by the sound.
The mix of the pre-recorded backing music and the microphones was unbalanced, and volume was extremely high in both performance and output. When singers hit high or belted notes, they drowned out the music and some tended to get pitchy. More dynamic range would have been nice in both group and solo outings, if for no other reason than to give the audience’s ears a rest. Some of the songs are so piercing people were flinching back in their seats.
The acting was also fairly uneven, with some of the cast dialing their performance up to 11, while other performers take a slightly subtler approach. (The lack of an actual director might have something to do with that.) Miriam Drysdale’s crazy Belle and drunk, dry-witted Ariel are the standouts of the show. She has to deal with some of the sillier situations in the show, like the unfortunate German number in which she portrays a strange dominatrix Rapunzel, but she plays most of them off well.
For a show pushed as an adults-only, sarcastic send-up, and one with feminist overtones at that, Disenchanted never follows through with its promise. Sure, it speaks out against the poor treatment of the princesses, but it does so in a way that feels dismissive and lacks empowerment. By the time the clock strikes the 15-minute warning, the glass slipper just doesn’t fit anymore.