Review by Bradley Chapman
Footlights Theatrical’s Disenchanted is a fun, frantic fractured-fairy-tale-meets-cabaret that sticks a dazzling middle finger squarely in the face of a certain mouse-shaped media conglomerate. Director Ros Johnson must have wished upon a star to assemble a cast that is well-equipped for this satirical venture: 9 talented performers who each bring a unique edge to these familiar characters.
You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Disenchanted. It’s a relatively new work that enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run in 2014. This works in the show’s favour – there’s some catchy songs that are heightened because we don’t know where they are going until they get there.
This also means that the cast of this production have been given the chance to put their own stamp on it, and they succeed. Individual audience members are sure to gel with certain performances in a fantasia like this, and it was no surprise to hear the wide array of favourite moments and characters being discussed in the open-air foyer after the show.
Characters such as Mulan, played by the irrepressible AJ Betts, who makes an important mid-song self-discovery in a moment of reflection. Betts is the maestro of nuance, and her expert comic timing has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. It is a masterfully comedic performance from a master comedian.
Louella Baldwin is bibbidi-bobbidi-beautiful as a ditzy Cinderella just trying her darned best. Her off the cuff interactions with the audience are a real highlight.
The show’s most powerful moment comes just around the riverbend in the form of Nykita O’Keeffe’s Pocahontas. In a well-earnt break from the more outlandish comedy of the overall piece, O’Keeffe laments the historical inaccuracy of her representation, and how she has been tragically coded to appease a white audience. O’Keeffe’s performance is staggeringly beautiful.
Another truly exciting is Row Blackshaw’s Sleeping Beauty. Blackshaw has one of the most challenging jobs in this production: turning a single joke into a layered, 90-minute performance that plays both comic and dramatic beats throughout. She handles this challenge beautifully, and adds layers and complexity to the script that would have been lost in lesser hands.
Unfortunately, this also highlights the pervasive weakness of Disenchanted: the script. The book, music and lyrics are all by Dennis T. Giacino, and while he was probably well meaning, in his attempt to speak from a feminist perspective he’s reduced some of these iconic characters to superficial cliches and stereotypes – the very thing he is attempting to chastise Disney for.
Happily, it is to Footlights’ credit, and in particular to that of Johnson and her cast, that they use the text as a springboard for their talent and humour. They spin gold with some of Giacino’s rather trite one-liners and that is really worthy of celebration. To bastardise the words of Stanislavski: we don’t go to the theatre for the script; we could read that at home. Rather, we go to see the PERFORMANCES, and these don’t disappoint.
Another gem in this cave of wonders is the band, under the direction of the immensely talented Benjamin Richards. The band really is special, and moments in which the actors interact with them are always fun.
Costumes by Johnson, Donovan Wagner and Samantha McLaughlin are breathtaking, modern interpretations of each character’s classic design. Simple yet flawless, they go a long way in making the audience feel part of this world.
All in all, Footlights Theatricals’ Disenchanted is a magical experience that goes the distance, and is one I never knew I needed. And yes, I made 10 Disney references throughout this review, you poor unfortunate souls.