Wandering through the toy store with my two-year-old granddaughter, I note the shelves of plastic princesses in sparkly dresses. My Facebook feed assures me — even if the posts are mocking or, in the case of my academic friends, filled with theory and jargon — that women are still deeply concerned about their body image and want very much to look like princesses. The fairy-tale fable that once a woman has met and mated with her prince her life will be forever blessed and happy also persists. So you could say that the musical Disenchanted, now showing at BDT Stage, is very much relevant. You could also argue that it’s just an evening of pink cotton candy, with a few profanities and sexual references thrown in to jazz things up. Both assessments would be right.
But the bottom line is that Disenchanted, which satirizes the cultural assumptions, historical distortions and masculine obtuseness behind the perfect Disney princess image in a series of tuneful, lively and often very funny songs, is a delightful way to spend an evening — in part because the songs are often witty and the points they make valid, and in part because director Alicia K. Meyers has assembled just the right mix of divas to sell the event with glamour and elan. Our emcee, so to speak, is a rather bossy Snow White, with Jessica Hindsley, perfectly attired as the cartoon character we remember so well, deploying a strong sweet voice and good comic timing in her efforts to keep the others in line and the evening moving smoothly along. She’s sided by Tracy Warren’s sugar-sweet, warm-voiced, perky and pretty Cinderella.
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Meyers herself plays the Little Mermaid, drunk yet oddly regal, and deeply regretful at having given up her tail and life in the sea for human legs. Meyers also plays Belle from Beauty and the Beast, driven hilariously mad by the endless chattering of the household objects around her. Marijune Scott — another fine voice — is Pocahontas, anxious to point out just how much Disney’s version of her story differs from the historical reality. And rather late in the first act — to underscore the lack of black princesses in popular culture — Anna High steps forward as the Princess Who Kissed the Frog, taking majestic control of the stage and wowing the audience with her rich and glorious voice.
One of the joys of seeing familiar actors on stage — a joy less common now that so many companies are casting in New York — is that we come to love their individual quirks and talents and to feel a personal attachment to them. Those of us who watched Annie Dwyer do her crazed thing at the Heritage Square Music Hall for over twenty years know the way she can stop a show. She’s a hurricane, a force of nature, and the only predictable thing about her is that you have no way of anticipating what she might do next. Here she’s Sleeping Beauty, snoozing her way through much of the first act. But in the second, she roars into action, asserting in song that she’s “Perfect” just as she is. Her fans know that Annie has physical problems that make performing difficult, even painful, but there’s no way anyone new to her work would sense that in her performance. Singing this feminist anthem of strength, defiance and to hell with body image, Dwyer’s so exuberant, so filled with life, joy and sheer bravado, that she brings unexpected depth and feeling to an otherwise lighthearted evening of pure entertainment.
Disenchanted, presented by BDT Stage through May 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bdtstage.com.