ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME Crowns a Pop Princess — Review
If the success of & Juliet proved anything, it’s that the key to a jukebox musical is leaning all the way into its ridiculousness. We’re here for pop songs, for the delicious, instant jolts of unserious serotonin they dispatch, You’d think the flipper-choreographed megahit Mamma Mia! would’ve engrained this into book writers’ heads back in 1999, yet most have still made us sit through countless rehashes of the same pseudo-serious dribble.
Once Upon a One More Time, a new musical “powered by the hits of Britney Spears,” is built upon a concept so absurd, it could only have been amazing. Out in storybook land where, night after night, our favorite princesses act out their well-trodden fates, a copy of Betty Friedan’s seminal feminist text, The Feminine Mystique lands on Cinderella’s lap. Already having begun to question the realities of “happily ever after,” the one-slippered heroine (played with charm by Briga Heelan) finds herself radicalizing herself and her cohort, including a spectacular Aisha Jackson as Snow White.
Soon enough, they’re up against the all-seeing Narrator (Adam Godley), an all-seeing director type averse to upsetting the status quo, who dotes on Prince Charming (Justin Guarini, performing) and somewhat listens to Cinderella’s Stepmother (Jennifer Simard, incandescent).
If Jon Hartmere’s surprisingly strong book has one fault, it’s that its numbers are tipped more towards the villains than any individual princess, leaving them somewhat of a unified mass. There’s strength in numbers, I suppose, but it would’ve been nice to hear more from Jackson, or from Lauren Zakrin’s belting Little Mermaid. Then again, with Guarini & company hamming it up for the ages, who could blame Hartmere and director-choreographers Keone & Mari Madrid?
Simard here is doing Simard par excellence—even by those formidable standards–making a meal out of her entrance (to “Work Bitch,” natch) and a malevolent rendition of “Toxic” that twists that earworm’s beloved melodies into a brilliant new work.
I suppose we could sit and enumerate the ways these princesses, sitting pretty in their “Lucky” lives but cry-cry-crying for emancipation, reflect the pop diva’s own battle for freedom. That’s there if you want it, and it’ll be there for every young girl, gay, and they in the audience looking for some empowerment. But Once Upon a One More Time pays its truest homage to Britney, not by wringing its hands over how to make pop serious, but through its bouncy understanding of fierce fun with laser-sharp choreography. Don’t overthink it, just intoxicate yourself.
Once Upon a One More Time is in performance at the Marquis Theatre on West 46th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.