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Once Upon A One More Time

Aisha Jackson, Morgan Whitley, Briga Heelan, Ashley Chiu, Gabrielle Beckford and Lauren Zakrin  (Photo: Matthew Murphy)



Once Upon A One More Time

By Fern Siegel


Betty Friedan is having a moment. And it's on Broadway.


Her book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, bravely challenged patriarchal orthodoxies about women, which deemed marriage, children and housework the extent of women's fulfillment. Friedan shattered those assumptions - and her readers felt heard.


That awakening has been applied to a pop musical in a fun, cheeky way - with a 21st-century twist. "Happy ever after" is the stereotypic ending to fairy tales - but their insidious gender archetypes - think damsel in distress - are damaging to those who embrace the myth.  


When the fairy-tale characters in "Once Upon A One More Time," the Brittany Spears jukebox musical now at the Marquis Theater, voice the same concerns as real women did - "Is this all?" - it eventually rocks the house. Spears' songs are fitted into the feminist message of equality and empowerment that ushered in, with Friedan's help, the second wave of feminism in the U.S.


Here, the fairy-tale characters, Snow White (Aisha Jackson), Little Mermaid (Lauren Zakrin), Rapunzel (Gabrielle Beckford), Princess Pea (Morgan Whitley) and Sleeping Beauty (Ashley Chiu) - all wait for their man. Save one - Cinderella (a wonderful Briga Heelan making her Broadway debut) is fed up with her shallow Prince Charming (Justin Guarini) and longs for something more. Her dissatisfaction is contagious, but dangerous. Sisterhood is powerful - but rarely welcomed by the powers that be. The Narrator (Adam Godley) runs a tight ship and threatens anyone who dares to question the status quo or his authority.


Enter some character revamps, who unlike their Disney counterparts, embrace possibility, and a clever story emerges. These women know nothing of sexual politics. The show is an embryonic journey guided by the banished Original Fairy Godmother (Brooke Dillman), who drops The Feminine Mystique into their weekly book club - where only one book, Grimm's Fairy Tales, is read - upending everything.



Adam Godley and Jennifer Simard (Photo: Matthew Murphy)


Husband and wife director and choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid have collaborated with book writer Jon Hartmere to produce a show that offers a sound message - and you can dance to it.


(Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bad Cinderella, which ran in the spring season, posited a similar idea. The "bad" referred to Cinderella's refusal to wear makeup and embrace beauty as her life's goal. She preferred to be loved for herself. The Broadway musical & Juliet, a feminist rewrite of Shakespeare's tragedy, has the strongest script of the three. Revisionist tales are having a moment.)


Once Upon A One More Time skims the surface, but it does illustrate the unhappy effects of stories that limit the human experience. The musical isn't pretending to be a socio-sexual analysis so much as a humorous commentary. And it makes its point: If we don't question traditional stories and assumptions, we should probably give them a pass.


Sustaining that idea is a talented cast, including stepsisters Tess Soltau and Amy Hillner Larson, and a standout performance by Jennifer Simard as Cinderella's nasty stepmother. Simard is memorable every time she steps on stage. And although the Little Mermaid can't speak, Zakrin's signing and dance moves are super-expressive, giving voice to the voiceless.


Scenic designer Anna Fleischle offers a simple, but colorful set, while costume designer Loren Elstein supplies the classic garb with sparkle.


Jukebox songs aren't written for the stage, but Brittany Spears fans won't care, since the intense choreography mirrors her music videos. One Upon A One More Time offers energy and a sweet ending. "Happy ever after" is never a given. The real power is in the quest.


Once Upon A One More Time
Marquis Theater, 210 W. 46 St.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes