Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Work In Progress: DISENCHANTED!

This month, we check in with Don Frantz, Producer and General Manager at Town Square Productions, as he tells us about their brand new, Off Broadway musical, Disenchanted!, by Dennis T. Giacino.
Poisoned apples. Glass slippers. Who needs ‘em?! Not Snow White and her posse of disenchanted princesses in the new musical comedy that’s anything but Grimm. Forget the princesses you think you know. After multiple sold-out runs nationwide, these royal renegades toss off their tiaras to bring their hilariously subversive, not-for-the-kiddies musical to New York Cityand fairy tales will never be the same!

How did Disenchanted find its way to Town Square Productions?   
A great friend and actress, Andrea Canny, called my office in NYC and said, “You have to get to Orlando to see a show. You don’t know the composer or director. It won the Fringe Festival award. Get here now. The last time I told you this was 10 years ago when Menopause started and you didn’t come. This one is even funnier, has original music and I’m in it.” And so I went.

What drew you to this project?   
The actors and creators put on an Actors’ Showcase production after the Fringe Festival in winter 2010-11. I saw it and laughed continuously for 90 minutes. Of course, I had worked for Disney and a lot of the humor was directed at the Orlando market, but I felt that it could play outside of the Disney hometown. As the princesses are universal, the show and the humor were universalI’m not intending to promote another theme park here. I was also thrilled to have discovered this composer whose music was so tuneful, clever and touching and after a career of working the keys deserved a break.There were very, very funny original bits on stage. Everything was low-tech and real. There was a sense of wonderful bravery on stage as the cast was given the allowance to break the fourth wall and respond to the audience and other performers in improvised moments. There was an immediacy in the room; a way to relate to the cast on stage that was so fresh and exciting. The ‘live’ was put back into live theater. 

What has the development of the show been and how has it changed through the years?
The first presentation that I watched had a cast of 11 actresses and piano. The show felt more cabaret than musical theater. There was just a hint of character development and script. There were no significant production elements in terms of set, lights and choreography; costumes and props were minimal. They were great songs. As we aimed for Off Broadway, we realized that the cast had to be smaller and after exploring all the characters, we realized that there were just 3 characters to focus on: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.  The others had great messages and filled with comedic value, but became secondary characters restructured to be played by other actresses in multiple roles. So we settled on a cast of 6. Since the music drove the show, we did expand to a band of 3 which added a valuable drummer to accent the comedy and the new dance elements and a bass player to give a ‘bottom’ to the all female cast.

The show became anchored with the concept that the princesses were putting on a revue, like a vaudeville, if you will. Just like developing the old vaudeville comedy routines of years ago, we went ‘on the road’ to discover the bits, lines, takes and gags. Prior to New York, the creators did or watched others do over a dozen productions all over the US  in readings, cabaret, concert, dinner theater, community theater, college, developmental workshops, AEA guest artist productions.  The show grew up over the last 5 years. I can watch the show now and remember when each bit was tried out at one of these productions and survived and made it into the final script. The success we have now is because of the many theater owners, presenters and producers that gave the show a chance along the way, the last and greatest help being offered by the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa which gave us the opportunity to put it all together prior to New York.
Why was this a good time to bring the princesses Off-Broadway?     
Simultaneous with the growth of our musical, there has also been a growth in pop culture about a sense of, let me call it, something other than the princess myth.  I don’t want to call it the Anti-Princess movement as we are really not anti-Disney at all. My 8 years with the mouse were the best times in my creative career. Most everyone in our company has been or is engaged on a Disney project. But the old stereotype of the princess waiting for her prince to come has molded a lot of lives and expectations. In the last 72 months, the ‘not so happily ever after’ chord has struck a nervein Saturday Night Live’s Desperate Disney Housewives skit, in Dina Goldstein’s photography, in the AVByte webcasts, in Huffington Post editorialsall of which went viral on the web and social media. On Broadway, investors find security in film-to-stage transfers or jukebox musicals; with the princesses, we found a sense of security and positive momentum with what was ‘trending.’ It’s the right time because when I say, Disenchanted! is about the original storybook princesses you know and love, who have come back to tell the "truth," the people smile, nod and are ready to walk in the theater. 
Why should everyone find some time to become enchanted with Disenchanted  
In 1994, I was fortunate enough to be the Associate Producer onBeauty and the Beast, which launched Disney Theatrical, and it brought a whole new energy to musical theater and another outlet for the perfect princess story.  A great thrill during the course of‘Beauty’ at the Palace Theater was seeing so many little girls have their first musical experience. 20 years later a lot of those little girls have grown up and kissed a toad. Not the magical toad, just a toad. Now that they are in their late 20’s, the time seems right for a tip of the hat to a little Disenchantment. The audiencemen and womenlaugh, giggle and guffaw during a 90-minute good time in the theater…but at the same time each night I see some members of the audience walk away with the acknowledgement of some of truths in lifebeing happy with who you are, tossing off someone else’s expectations, the joy of friends who understand, the strength to stand up for yourself.  One lady in her 50’s said, "It’s about time someone said that!”  Then bought a return ticket for her and her daughter. Finally, I’d have to say that in New York at the Theater at St. Clements you also have the total enjoyment of being enchanted at the performances of 6 amazing women who simply put on a great show. 

For more information about the show, visit theDisenchanted! website

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