Bitches of the Kingdom!

July 16, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Don’t Tell Mama  –  Thursdays, June 14 – July 26

Not so long ago, composer/lyricist Dennis T. Giacino wondered whether the Disney fairytale princesses really did live happily ever after. This moment of contemplation led to his writing the forthcoming off-Broadway musical Disenchanted!, in which the princesses bitch about the way they have been portrayed in the films—and the way the films’ underlying premise has pervaded our culture. At Don’t Tell Mama, the revue “Bitches of the Kingdom!” provides an advance look at that musical, and while it might have been intended as a commercial for Disenchanted!, it is hugely entertaining in its own right.

The chief elements that, combined, determine the entertainment value of a revue are its material, the performances, and the direction. Quite often, a strong showing in two of these categories can go a long way towards compensating for deficiencies in the third. In the case of “Bitches of the Kingdom!”, however, all three components are not merely strong, they’re terrific—and, so, so is the show.

Giacino’s music is endlessly tuneful, with a musical theatre vivacity that is immediately attractive. His lyrics are clever, inventive, and rich with delightful, quirky notions and rhymes—do you not find rhyming “whistling” and “Bisselling” delectablee?—and withal, the songs are expertly crafted. The bright, perky staging by Fiely A. Matias always illuminates or enhances the matter at hand—unlike the gratuitously busy staging one sees in many other shows, which seems to have been designed to fool the audience into thinking something is going on. And those sparkling performances! The cast I saw consisted of Stephanie Clouse, Rheaume Crenshaw, Michelle Knight, Jaygee Macapugay, and Jenny Lee Stern. (The roster may change somewhat from evening to evening.) While some princesses get more time in the spotlight than others, each of them shines, not only delivering her lines with flair and polish, but finding all sorts of little things—looks, gestures, attitudes—to make the moment even more delightful, more hilarious, more charming—without ever overplaying. And they can sing up a storm. They are the very model of musical comedy artistry.

On those rare instances in which it appears that maybe, just maybe, Giacino has exhausted a subject, comes an appealing bit of stage business or a captivatingly wry expression from a performer—and then, invariably, Giacino comes through with a fresh line to reassure you that there’s plenty more where that came from. On top of that, Giacino’s disarming narration from the piano lends a gemütlich tone to the proceedings, and Matias’s occasional on-stage participation adds a hint of madness (the good kind). By the way, the show is deliciously “R”-rated.

I would be remiss if I didn’t cite a few examples of the songs. In “Skin as White as Snow,” Snow White tells us that the princesses are not happy with the way they’ve been depicted—i.e., dependent on men and just waiting for their prince. Steaming mad, she declares how they plan to vent their dissatisfaction on an iconic Disney character in a line that is at once mean, preposterous, and hilarious. In “Without the Guy,” Hua Mulan reveals something most decidedly non-Disney about herself—and she does so with infectious enthusiasm. In “Big Tits,” the princesses deplore the bodies they’ve been given and the problems those bodies have created for them—and they know exactly where to place the blame.

With “All I Wanna Do Is Eat,” they lament what they must do to retain their cartoon-perfect figures. Near the top of this number there’s a bit that typifies the high level of creativity evident throughout the evening. It involves a lyric line, the other princesses’ reaction to the line, then at just the right moment, the surprise payoff—a little masterstroke of writing, direction, and performance that filled me with admiration even as I was chuckling. In “Honestly,” Pocahontas, who in actuality had not yet reached her teens when she saved Captain John Smith’s life, gripes about the film’s rather more mature depiction of her. And in “Two Legs,” Ariel (the Little Mermaid) wonders whether she made the right choice in becoming bi-pedal. In a lyric, Ariel complains about one of the downsides of her decision. Reading that line in my notes had me laughing loud and long alone in my apartment.

Explaining the purpose of this cabaret revue, Giacino has reportedly said, “Before we bring Disenchanted! to a New York theater in the fall, we want to give audiences a taste of the music from the show… We hope [it] will excite audiences and interest them in the bigger story.” Judging from the packed houses (an additional, early show has been scheduled for July 19 because the later show has already sold-out), Giacino need have no fear. I know that I, for one, am champing at the bit.

 

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.

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