The Legend. The Undisputed Princess of Pop. Grammy Award-winner and the blueprint for female pop stars ever since the late 90s. It was only a matter of time before Britney Spears was awarded something so monumental as a Broadway stage production. Once Upon a One More Time was in development back in 2019, but we all know how COVID-19 ruined the entire world’s schedule. Rumor has it she was at early test readings at that time, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, she officially authorized, produced and blessed the theatrical play as one of her first post-Conservatorship duties. Honestly, that’s one of the only reasons I came out to New York on June 14th. I’m not into musicals, I’ve never seen a play (as will be evident by some of my terminology, I’m sure) and if reports are true, I’m never going to experience Britney Spears in concert. Once Upon a One More Time was my only chance to see anything live from the woman who’s sold over 100,000,000 albums worldwide.
Once Upon a One More Time is directed by Keone and Mari Madrin, based on the original story by Jon Hartmere. It’s also produced by James L. Nederlander and Hunter Arnold. It centers around the most famous Disney Princesses and other noteworthy women from whimsical lurer. Cinderella, specifically, winds up with a copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Originally, I thought Mystique was a book of spells made up for the play, but it turns out it’s a piece of real literature that inspired the second wave of feminism in the early 1960s. I know, I’m an uncultured swine. The Disney Princesses are forced to relive the same day over and over again at the hands of The Narrator, who cycles their narrative every time a Reader picks up a copy of their respective story. When Cinderella reads Mystique and becomes cognizant, a series of events send her and her friends into treacherous waters.
Well behaved princesses rarely make history. Can I get an amen?!
Once Upon a One More Time features original choreography and remixes to Spears’ biggest hits, performed to perfection and exactly in sync with the unfolding narrative. It was such an experience to take in all at once, but I distinctly remember thinking “damn, I wish I could move like that” and hearing guitars and big drums that made the entire theater erupt with excitement. Also, they snuck in a few of Spears’ songs that weren’t Top 40 hits. The stage itself felt like directors Keone and Mari Madrin plucked scenes from Spears’ numerous perfume commercials and dropped them into Wonderland or a fairytale kingdom. Although the stage set up is quite simple, it is wholeheartedly effective and showcases the talent of everyone involved so beautifully. But the lights. My God, cool it down with the strobe lights or at least don’t point them directly in the audiences’ eyes. I was blinded several times and had trouble enjoying the experience in those moments.
Truly, all the actors gave standout performances. So, instead of listing my favorites, I’m going to tell you who got the biggest pops from the crowd. Ground Floor’s Briga Heelan as Cinderella. She was absolutely the right choice for the role and I’m glad she dropped the “let’s make fun of Britney Spears baby voice” after the first musical number. 2-time Tony Award nominee Emily Skinner. Obviously recognized by the crowd for her contributions to Broadway but also so enchanting in the most devilish way. Bob’s Burgers Brooke Dillman. I wish she was my fairy godmother! Let me not forget Aisha Jackson as Snow White. And American Idol’s Justin Guarini. Let me tell you something about Justin Guarini. Kelly Clarkson may have won the battle, but Justin has won the war! He is a zaddy now and he has no right being THAT sexy on stage. His voice has also aged like fine wine. As the face of Dr. Pepper, I’d drink his ass up.
My favorite numbers in no particular order were “Oops,” “Circus,” “Toxic” and “Make Me.” And when Guarini busted out choreography to “Oops” from the music video, the crowd went INSANE. Speaking of the crowd, it was multi-generation. I thought I was going to be one of the oldest ones – at age 35 – but the crowd ranged from age 16 to 70. That’s the power and legacy of Britney Spears, ladies and gentlemen.
The Once Upon a One More Time script was written so cohesively by Jon Hartmere. It’s surprisingly emotional yet also filled to the brim with wit, humor and sarcasm. It runs at a breakneck pace and becomes a game of can you spot the Britney Spears homages mixed into the story and stage details. However, I will say that, even though it’s more of a PG13 script, I’d try to steer clear of the racial stereotypes, even if it is all done in jest. It even showcases a cute gay romance. If only real Disney could learn from this. As you can see, I have very few complaints from my viewing. It was listed as a practice run before launching, but I don’t know how it could get much better. It’s already an A+ experience, and I’m not just saying that after filling up on the Scream & Shout Sangria or taking a photo inside one of Britney’s album covers.
Ugh. I know I’m going to go full white girl right now but… #takemeback.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter