I have a long history with “Disenchanted.”
I first saw it few years ago, at William Paterson University, my old college back in New Jersey. It was the winner of a recent writing contest, and the grand prize, which it had won, was to be performed at the school. I knew the bare minimum about it, only that it was about “Disney princesses,” and a few friends of mine were starring in it, so I decided to give it a shot.
And that’s when my love affair with it started.
Disenchanted is a musical comedy satire that gives fairy tales the bird. And wonderfully so. Written by Dennis T. Giacino, the show takes the original fairy tale princesses, and makes them snarky, bitchy, and inappropriately hilarious. In other words, Disney princesses these girls ain’t. And they’ve got something to say about the way Uncle Walt portrays them!
Disenchanted, at its core, is a unique look at the princesses we all know and love, acting nothing at all like they do from the classic Disney films. They’re not here to swoon over and fall in love with charming princes, but rather to say how they really feel about the current state of their public images.
“The idea for the show came from when I was walking down Main Street one day, and I saw Cinderella with a trickle of sweat coming down off her brow,” Dennis told me when we spoke about the show. “When I caught her back stage, I said ‘Hey Cinderella, looks like happily ever after ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!’, referring to her sweat. And she said to me ‘I’m a princess, I never sweat!’” Clearly, that princess was ignoring the Florida sun.
“This sparked the idea of just how many princesses out there aren’t living their happily ever after. I went back to original storybook princesses, in the original fairy tales, to show how they felt about the way they were portrayed in these Disney movies,” Dennis continued.
Dennis himself is no stranger to Disney. A former Cast Member, he worked at Walt Disney World for two years back in the early 1990s, starting as a Vacation Planner at Ticket and Transportation Center. Within 3 months, he was promoted to a Training Coordinator.
“I had a theatre background, so they put me in charge of training people for the spiels on the attractions at the Magic Kingdom. I made sure everyone who wasn’t an actor looked like an actor,” Dennis said. While in a managerial role, he still worked on many of those attractions, including being a Skipper on The Jungle Cruise!
Dennis left The Walt Disney Company in 1994, with the idea brewing in his head for months. The first song he wrote dealt with Pocahontas. Just how would the REAL Pocahontas feel about how Disney portrayed her? From there, he found that many of the other princesses had a host of complaints, and the show was born!
But the play is not meant as a malicious statement about Disney; it’s all in good fun.
“Before I ever wrote a note of any song, the first thing I thought was I don’t want this to be a slam on Disney, because I love Disney! I like to describe it as sitting around with a bunch of friends, kind of jabbing at each other, because you know them so well. And they do the same back to you, and everyone laughs about it,” Dennis said. After touring with another show he created for five years, he threw himself into this one. All told, it took about three years to prepare Disenchanted for the stage.
Even after the show was completed, Dennis continued to improve and expand upon it. In fact, just three months after “Tangled” was released in theaters, Rapunzel was added into the lineup.
“It was really a great film, and I thought she was sort of a strong princess, too. I had no complaints about her at all, as far as women go, but then thought ‘Great, I need a Rapuznel song!’ I didn’t have a single thing that I thought the Rapuznel from the original story would have a complaint about. But then I was standing in the World of Disney store (in Downtown Disney), and saw there was Rapunzel this, and Rapunzel that… she was everywhere! What kind of profit does SHE make for this?”
The answer, of course, is none. Hence, Rapunzel’s number about not seeing ‘not vone red cent’ from any of her merchandising.
The show itself had its first full production in Orlando during the Orlando Fringe Festival in 2011. Out of the 80 productions shown during the festival, Bitches of the Kingdom (as it was called there) was the highest selling show. The entire 320 seat Orlando Shakespeare Center was completely sold out. The show was extended twice because it was so popular.
It also won the New Jersey Playwrights Competition in 2010, with a read-through performed in December of that year (and the first time I saw the show). It was the first production to have a full set and costuming, with the entire room decked out to look like a lounge called ‘The Disenchanted Tiki Room.’
Each subsequent time I’ve seen the show over the years (we’re hovering at 4 times now), it’s gotten better and better. Not only is it more than just cleverly written ribs on the princesses, but it’s got a set of incredible songs that would feel (almost) right at home in any Disney film.
The characters almost seem like they stepped right off the screen and onto the stage. Sure, some of them still had traits from their Disney incarnations, but they shed their family friendly image within moments of appearing on stage.
That’s another thing worth mentioning – this show is very much ‘blue’ humor, so it’s not recommended to take kids. It’s definitely geared more toward the older set, because some of the humor is very raunchy and crude.
Some of the songs, such as “Big Tits,” are sure to make you think twice about how you look at the princesses. But don’t let that dismay you: it’s done tastefully and, of course, hilariously. I’m quite sure that any true Disney fan will realize that the play is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and that Dennis doesn’t intend it as a Disney bash. It’s an homage, in a sense, and a very good one. Disney fans who get the humor will love it.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The show has been getting rave reviews at every production, from its original workshop, all the way up to its current run at the Jaeb Theatre in Tampa, Florida. While in Orlando, it even earned some high praise from Disney animators and higher ups from the company came to see it.
“I always get two questions…’How did a man write this?’ and ‘Do you have a good lawyer?'” Dennis joked. Thankfully, the folks from Disney loved it. “They already poked fun at themselves with Enchanted… this just takes it a step further!”
“The show references Disney, but it’s so much more than that. Anyone who has taken these princesses and put them on a stage or screen, they take responsibility of creating this ‘princess complex’ of a woman who needs to sit around and wait for her prince to come and save her. Or being weak, or being thin and not eat… that’s where the story (of Disenchanted) came from, every song stems from that. I really don’t see (the show) being about feminism but definitely female empowerment and self-acceptance,” Dennis continued.
Disenchanted is continuing to make the rounds and make a name for itself all over the country. It’s been performed countless times, but they continue to have their sights set for an Off-Broadway run in the fall of 2014.
If you get an opportunity to see the show, I highly recommend you do so. This is the second non-Broadway show I’ve seen this year that has blown me out of the water, and the writing was better than most Broadway shows. I cannot stop raving about how wonderful it was.
But for now, you can catch Disenchanted from now until April 13th, 2014, at the Jaeb Theatre at The Straz Center as part of the 2013-14 Bank of America Broadway Series in Tampa.
For tickets and information, visit www.facebook.com/disenchantedmusical.
Jeff Heimbuch is a recent transplant to California, where he currently lives 20 minutes from Disneyland. Jeff has written about theme parks for a variety of publications, including several fan sites and magazines, along with a book with Disney Legend Rolly Crump. He is one half of the devastatingly good-looking duo of the theme park podcast Communicore Weekly. He also thinks Animal Kingdom is a full day park. You can find Jeff at communicoreweekly.com.