Monday, May 23, 2016

Review of Disenchanted (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Disenchanted. The book, music, and lyrics were by Dennis T. Giacino and it was directed by Christopher Bond. It was about fairy tale princesses rebelling against sexism in their Disney movies. Snow White (Merritt Crews), Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards), and Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook) were your hosts for a kind of vaudeville show. I really enjoyed some of the songs and performances, but I felt it was not a completely successful rebellion against sexism. The audience seemed to really love this show, though, so it is not a terrible show for everyone. I was just hoping for more.

It sounds like a great idea to critique Disney princess movies, but I don't feel like it hit a home run like I hoped it would. I do believe that some Disney movies are sexist, but I do think they are getting better. I love Disney movies; I even love the sexist ones. The sexist ones were made a long time ago and were based on really old stories. It is okay to watch sexist stuff if you don't partake in the negative messages but analyze them and separate them from the good messages. When I was a little kid, my mom said I couldn't watch any Disney princess movies until I was a feminist. And I asked what a feminist was and she said, it is someone who thinks women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. And I said, "Well, of course!" So then I got to watch Cinderella. Disenchanted had a good goal to show the sexism in Disney movies, but I felt like they were making points I'd heard many times before and I wanted a bit more originality and also a bit more truthfulness. When they made an accusation that didn't seem true to me, that made me think they were just fishing for things to not like about Disney's portrayal of girls to make the show longer and it weakened their case.

One example of telling lies about Disney movies was a song called "Big Tits." It was claiming that all Disney princesses had large breasts because all of the male animators just wanted to make them that way. I know that Disney did have some female animators, but I know there were more men. But the song is kind of telling a lie, because the princesses don't all have the same figure and almost none of them have big breasts, except maybe Pocahontas, who has pretty normal sized breasts. I felt like the song was very unneeded and made me feel angry. And also don't think it is bad to represent women as having large breasts because a lot of actual women on this earth do have large breasts and it doesn't mean they always have to be sexualized. I also think that if there is something wrong with men animating women with big breasts then there should also be something wrong with men writing a song and directing women to draw attention to their cleavage. I don't always think that is wrong, but here it seemed to be a double standard.

I really liked Ann Paula Bautista's performance. She played Mulan, Pochahontas, and Princess Badroulbadour (who is who Jasmine is based on). I felt like she made the entire show a lot more enjoyable for me. She got to sing songs that I thought were funny and clever and more often actually had a point that made sense to me. I felt like it was really interesting that they made Mulan a lesbian. I thought that made for some interesting plot lines, like how Cinderella and Mulan seem to "get together." The Pocahontas song talked all about how they don't tell her true story, and I think that is a really good thing to talk about because they don't tell her true story whatsoever. But, as she rails on about how they don't tell her story, she doesn't really tell her actual story. They already made this show pretty dark, so I think they could have mentioned how she was kidnapped and maybe married to someone she didn't want to marry, and died in her early twenties. I also enjoyed Uche Ama as The Princess who Kissed the Frog. Her song was all about how it took so long to have an African American princess in a Disney movie. But if the writers wished it had been sooner, why didn't this play introduce her character sooner? It would have been really awesome to have her voice in the earlier songs in the play. I also thought the costumes (by Vanessa Leuck) were very cool and modernized and made the princesses look more awesome.

People who would like this show are people who like new versions of Disney princesses, parody, and cool costumes. I thought this show tried very hard to make this a groundbreaking new kind of show, but I feel like they just missed the mark for me. I think the audience I saw this with enjoyed it, so maybe you will too.

Photos: Dahlia Katz

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