Disenchanted produced by Casting Spells Productions at the Illusion Theater

Photo: James Detmar

Photo: James Detmar

In case you missed it last year, “Disenchanted!” produced by Casting Spells Productions has returned for a pre-holidays run at the Illusion Theater. Bright, clever and all in good fun, this modern take on the heroines of classic children’s Disney movies also has a solid—and serious—premise holding the whole thing up. Is it a little frothy? Well, ok. Bawdy? Only sometimes. Does it ring true? Oh, yes. And that’s why it works. That, and good songwriting technique.

Leading the band of rebellious fairy tale characters, Jen Burleigh-Bentz as the trenchant Snow White is a powerhouse presence, sailing through seriously high-pitched melody lines and timing every nuanced expression and gesture to perfection.

Belle from ”Beauty and the Beast”(Kim Kivens) is being driven to insanity by talking teapots and silverware and wonders, “I speak with an American accent and I don’t know why.” Kivens wrangles three over-the-top roles with equal panache. The Little Mermaid, who can’t believe that she “swapped the Seven Seas for a prince and a pair of feet,” is a drunk, but the premise is so absurd (didn’t have to make much up there) that she’s a killingly funny one. Her Rapunzel, a German frau with conjoined eyebrows, demands a performance from the audience and, of course, gets it.

Bonni Allen gets the blond ditz role of Cinderella. Before you roll your eyes, let me assure you that Allen makes what could have been clichéd beyond toleration totally charming instead. Her twinkling eyes, and cheery smile were not only believable but loveable, and I can’t believe I said that.

Katherine Tieben-Holt as Sleeping Beauty showed an easy feel for comedy. She isn’t quite the polished singer that the previously mentioned performers are, but she’s in rarified company—and she still holds her own. (According to my male theater date, she would be the first to enchant a prince.)

Stephanie Bertuman gets the most serious moment as Pocahontas, who she says has been turned into looking “like a porn star. … Why can’t my story be told honestly?” she asks in a song titled “Honesty.” Nice moment, not in the least diminished by her “Can anyone tell me why leaves keep following me?” parting comment. She also played the Jasmine character from “Alladin,” but her best was Hua Mulan. I’m not giving it away, but I will say that it’s amazing how logical it all seems.

Joy Dolo as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog just plain had fun singing her way through “that storybook princess that’s finally gone Black” in the song “Finally.” Indeed.

As a cabaret-style piece, it doesn’t have to have much of a story—and we all know the backstories, which gives the show plenty of material to work. The real strength of this show is in its theme, backed up with well-crafted and clever lyrics.

The music is mostly standard, right-out-of-the book American Musical fare, but the writers clearly know the genre and what to do with it. The melodies worked very well, although I can’t say I heard anything particularly new. One couldn’t ask for a better music director for this style of show. Lori Dokken at the piano provided all the accompaniment that was needed. She’s the best.

Choreography, what there was of it, was serviceable and also standard, but that could have been part of the schtick.

Tight pacing and transitions that played on each character’s idiosyncrasies kept the show billowing along. Had a little trouble getting into the finale, where it lost its rhythm and logical movement, but once into the Finale, it was back on track. Might want to tweak that one before heading to less forgiving markets.

Book, music and lyrics are by Dennis C. Giacino, Mark Bergren directs and I understand it’s to be produced Off-Broadway soon, so, who knows? It could be headed to the Great White Way.

“Disenchanted!” runs through Nov. 23.

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