Mark Kennedy – AP Entertainment Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Receive an LED wristband as you enter the Britney Spears-filled Broadway musical Once Upon a One More Time. But this gift is mysteriously inert throughout the show, only coming to life at curtain call. This is a metaphor, not a wristband. Because it is free, it shines in the end. Get rid of this pretentious, condescending, clumsy and lazy show.
“Once Upon a One More Time,” which opened Thursday at the Marquis Theater, is pure summer antics. There are overtime smoke machines, weird dance breaks, copious amounts of twinkle, and every song ends with an artificially crafted IMAX-level sonic boom. One of the main characters actually swings over the chandelier.
All of it looks recycled. A broken fairy tale, a now-worn concept, no less giant than Andrew Lloyd Webber failed this spring with “Bad Cinderella.” It’s also a safe feminist tale in which women write their own stories, led by a creative team led mostly by men, which is a perennial problem on Broadway, but a very awkward tale of a princess in control of the narrative.
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Written by John Hartmere, the musical includes stories about classic fairy tale princesses (collected as they were in the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet), Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid, transformed after reading the groundbreaking feminist text The Feminine Mystique. Betty Friedan’s books helped launch the women’s movement by portraying women as prisoners of a culture that fetishizes motherhood and domestic chores.
It’s unclear why Friedan was placed in the low ranks here, or even why Spears, after her guardianship, endorsed this nuanced musical that included many of her hits, including “Oops! … I Did It Again,” “Lucky,” “Stronger,” and “Toxic.” The creators hollowed out the original song’s lyrics to try to push a story that didn’t suit them. And they added them to a script that mixed threesome jokes, drunken princesses, and references to Howard Stern with lines like “Won’t you pull my slippers?”
Adam Godley gleefully plays the giggly, noisy narrator, like the backstage ringmaster of a fairy tale, telling the princesses to “get ready for the wedding!” — and he stands in the way of change and growth. ‘But this is much happier, isn’t it?’ Cinderella asks. “Of course,” he replies. it’s not.
The musical, directed and choreographed by husband-and-wife pair Keone and Mari Madrid, whose dance videos have gone viral on YouTube, seems mesmerized by the strange, jerky arm movements that suggest the performers are having a seizure. On “One More Time,” I stick my index finger up and overdo it.
That doesn’t take anything away from the two stars, Briga Heeran as Cinderella and former American Idol star Justin Guarini as Prince Charming. They use their pipes, their physical comedy skills, and their kindness to pitch scripts far below their capabilities. They are truly fairy-tale heroes.
The story shifts tone from lip service to sweet sentimentality, trying to establish a sisterly relationship that has not been earned, and adding an afterthought and distracting gay rights narrative. The second act has a surprising transformation, transforming the narrator into a Marvel Cinematic Universe-level villain who kills anyone who disobeys him. Desperate attempts to create a consistent happy ending fail.
This is definitely Spears’ moment on Broadway. Many of her hits are also included in the current Broadway jukebox musical ‘& Juliet’, which honors one of her writing partners and producers, Max Martin, including her ‘…Baby One More Time’ and ‘Stronger’. That show is in every way better than Once Upon a One More Time, clearly designed to attract preteens and sell T-shirts. ”
Mark Kennedy is http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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