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‘Disenchanted!’ an indictment of enchanted silver screen fairy tales of yesteryear


Over the course of its previous eleven seasons, the Laboratory Theater of Florida has perfected the parody, and its hybridized production of Dennis T. Giacino’s Off-Broadway hit Disenchanted: A New Musical Comedy! continues this evolving legacy. But the musical isn’t a loving spoof of the fairy tales that Disney has brought to the screen since its introduction of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. It’s an indictment of the overt and subliminal messages they reinforce about gender identity, orientation and acceptable female behavior.

For more than eight decades, Disney’s disaffected princesses have been purveying a constellation of male-originated paradigms and prescriptions that have come to be known as the Princess Complex. (Yes, it’s actually a thing). But don’t take my word for it. Let Snow White explain. “[It’s] that age-old idea in which you are only desirable and valid if you are a beauty-obsessed, ditzy, insecure, Bambi-like waif” with a waist that’s no bigger than your neck.

The message is so effectively internalized by the impressionable young audiences who blithely  consume this content that by six little girls see themselves in a diffident, subservient, sexually-objectified manner purveyed by the fairy tales that play out across their movie and television screens. And that means that little boys see girls and expect women to behave in these ways too. Is it any wonder that when a grown woman steps out of the expected caricature, she’s viewed as aggressive, ambitious and, horrors of all horrors, as nasty?

Giacino sets the tone from the first note, with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella rejecting emphatically the conclusion that their happiness is dependent upon some handsome prince riding in on a white horse. To the contrary, the trio assert, they are fully capable of finding their own bliss, defining their own self-image and creating their own destinies.  They are free to embrace their own gender identity and sexual orientation and nothing, NOTHING, is off limits.

High time!

As satisfying as it is to watch the princesses explode the myths surrounding characters that include Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, the Little Mermaid and Pocahontas (the real one, not Elizabeth Warren), Dis! is all about the music and lyrics. Giacino wrote both, blending Broadway with pop and hip hop to produce thirteen loosely connected musical numbers with interspersed skits. Through each of these numbers, Giacino empowers his Dis! princesses to vent their frustrations with their pre-ordained lots in life.

But don’t misunderstand. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and their sisters are not angling for a boycott of enchanted genre movies and storybooks. They just want you, your kids and your grandkids to understand that what you’re watching is fiction not reality, fantasy not some aspirational standard or set of societal mores.

So feel free to don your tiara when you watch Lab’s filmed production of Disenchanted: A New Musical Comedy!

Better still, take a page from the Big Bang girls and dress for the occasion (The Contractual Obligation Implementation).

Create your own happy ending.

August 27, 2020.


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