Stray Dog Theatre's Christmas counter-programming is a tradition that dates back more than a decade, and with any luck it will continue for the next decade. Rather than giving in to the usual pine-trees-and-wishes shows, Stray Dog selects a play that either challenges the clichés of the season or ignores them entirely. Dennis T. Giacino's musical Disenchanted! hails from the latter school, and it's an intelligent and witty show about some of the most famous princesses of your favorite fairytales. Under the sensitive guidance of director Justin Been, these women collectively lament their boring Prince Charmings, the strangeness of their lives post "happily ever after," and the stodgy gender politics of the genre. The songs are catchy and fun, but as the complaints and corrections pile up, you realize the terrible impact these so-called happy endings have on the main consumers of the princess entertainment complex: young girls.
Cinderella and Snow White (Sarah Gene Dowling and Kelly Slawson) are the ringleaders of the truth telling, presenting their peers in cabaret-style, one-woman confessionals. Slawson's Snow White has a powerhouse voice and a fondness for abusing vocal pyrotechnics; she makes Mariah Carey seem restrained. Dowling's Cinderella is a blackbelt shit disturber, imitating "Snowy's" trilling runs up the scales behind her back. Cinderella also has a mischievous gas problem to go with her nasty sense of humor, and as the show develops so too do her disruptive antics. Cindy and Snowy make a fantastic pair together.
Sleeping Beauty (Dawn Schmid) is sweetly naïve compared to her brassy friends and frequently felled by a lingering narcolepsy that postpones her big number several times. Don't let her sugary personality fool you, she's buckling under the stress of having to be "perfect," and she hints that her suitors have consent issues (a sleeping woman is easily victimized).
Some of the women's issues are problems only because of their fictional situations. Belle (Madeline Black) is excellent as a princess driven barking mad by singing and ambulatory crockery. Black snarls and growls as she sings about her husband, who is in more ways than one a large animal. The Little Mermaid (Stephanie Merritt) drinks like a fish out of regret for giving up her beautiful tail in exchange for human legs she still can't master. Staggering across the stage bottle in hand, her song "Two Legs" is a rousing, country-flecked romp that reveals the perils of making wholesale changes to oneself in order to land your dream guy.
But Gitana Mims' Pocahontas is worn down from trying to reclaim her factual origins from the glamour of the Disney mythmaking. Her song "Honestly," is the saddest one in the musical, as Mims explains that Pocahontas has essentially been erased from her own life to sell books, movie tickets and merchandise.
It's not all gloom and despair, though. In "Without the Guy" Hua Mulan (Hevan Leon) recognizes that the lack of a prince at the end of her story must mean she's a lesbian, which frees her from having to satisfy male expectations. She pursues a romantic interest of her own choosing, and then seemingly consummates this relationship backstage.
Walt Disney and his corporation come in for a couple of beatings, although the show mostly sticks to sly references rather than outright condemnations. Princess Badroulbadour (Eleanor Humphrey), perhaps better known as Jasmine, rages about being a supporting character in her own story, while The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Selena Steed) is mainly relieved that she finally got to be a princess for black girls and is less upset about her lack of a name.
It is Rapunzel who is most aggrieved. Ericka Cockerham stalks across the stage with a riding crop in hand and shouts in a thick German accent about being cheated by "Valt." All that merchandising, and she gets not "Vun Red Cent." With an iron fist, she leads the crowd through a riotous sing-along, and you'd better believe she punishes lackluster performances. In a show positively crowded with strong female characters (and highly skilled women playing those roles), Cockerham's Rapunzel is the most strident voice of resistance.
Disenchanted! provides a path to recognizing and naming that resistance. Its all-woman cast primarily addresses the concerns of generations of women, with only brief detours into the horrors of the male gaze. It's worth noting that the Stray Dog band maintains the all-woman demographic. Jennifer Buchheit (music director and keyboards) Desiree Jones (drums) and Michaela Kubla (bass) ably perform all the music, and occasionally get roped into the action. Disenchanted! may be a show by and for women, but don't let that stop you from bringing your husbands, boyfriends or sons: We need to hear this stuff too. Just make sure they're strong enough to take it, because these ladies don't pull any punches.