There’s a lot to unpack in the new ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME playing through January 9 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. While it’s undoubtedly a fun night out, filled with pop tunes you know and love to dance to, it also takes the tiara off cherished fairytale characters with a modern empowerment agenda that seeks to redefine ‘happily ever after.’
Inspired by the music of the Princess of Pop herself, Britney Spears, this Broadway-bound musical written by John Hartmere isn’t a biopic for Spears, but rather a 2.0 fable that gets back at the Brothers Grimm.
To be fair, Cinderella was already having doubts, but it’s unlikely any of this would have happened had the (banished!) O.F.G. (Original Fairy Godmother, Brooke Dillman) not thrust The Feminine Mystique upon the Princesses’ fortnightly book club. This reading sparks a revolution that threatens the very existence of Story Land as the princesses find that the traditional idea of their happy ending just doesn’t track — in fact, it traumatizes. And while the tale has Cinderella at its heart, each of the beloved storytime royals, from Rapunzel to Little Red Riding Hood (and the Princess and the Pea thrown in for her healthy dose of skepticism) calls into question their own version of contentment.
But would anyone want to read tales that don’t end up with birds chirping, rainbows forming, and ladies finding their Prince? Well, at least one little girl with a very progressive Granny!
Spears’ pop anthems are masterfully woven into the action, played with live music accompaniment, though some lyrics are changed to adapt to the story. The songs move the story along as well as provide it with moments of levity, many achieved by our favorite characters, Prince Charming (American Idol’s Justin Guarini) and Cinderella’s Step Sisters (Betany, Tess Soltau; and Belinda Mimi Scardulla).
But while it’s easy to get caught up in the choreography, not to mention that shattering of glass slippers (and ceilings) and the thought of writing one’s own happy ending, there is a bit of discomfort when a character the Princesses find oppressive gets encircled and immobilized in the name of justice. He meekly agrees to play along, so tempers are moderated. Hmm… this is a fantasy land after all!
ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME has already been extended an additional week to January 9, 2022. Tickets ranging in price from $35-$190 are available at ShakespeareTheatre.org or by calling the box office at 202.547.1122.