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July 24, 2023
What Happens When Cinderella Meets Betty Friedan
Once Upon A One More Time
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Once upon a time, children were raised on fairy tales where the beautiful princess waited to be rescued by the valiant handsome prince. Today those stories have been changed to reflect a different attitude about gender and relationships. No more the damsel in distress, no more knight in shining armor, no more complacent happy ever after ending. Girls are being raised to be self-reliant, so why wait for a Prince Charming to arrive? Quite frankly, look at all the pressure these tales put on guys?

Over the years, those stories also provided an entire canon of tales to be adapted for the stage and screen. Recently Broadway witnessed “Bad Cinderella,” a revival of “Into the Woods” and now with music by Britney Spears comes “Once Upon a One More Time.”

I’m not familiar with much of Spears’ music, but like anyone who ever listened to the news, I knew of her legal issues with her controlling father. Honestly, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing the show at the Marquis Theater but was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. Sadly, the large theater was only half full for the Saturday matinee’ and the majority of theatergoers were women and girls, most of whom knew Spears’s music. The audience was energetic and enthusiastic, cheering each new song.

Visually the show is fun. The costumes are eye-catching ( Loren Elstein’s vibrant costume design) and the dancing is nonstop and energetic. Keone and Mari Madrid are the award-winning director/choreographer team responsible for the production.

The storyline is thin but I doubt that many in the audience cared. Cinderella, played by Briga Heelon making an impressive Broadway debut, is vaguely unhappy but dutifully follows the instructions of The Narrator. He (Adam Godlley) rehearses the characters in the tales, careful to ensure that there are no changes.Cinderella and the other princesses meet for their scroll club (a takeoff on the book clubs that have become so popular with women.)

Later Cinderella meets O.F.G. (Original Fairy Godmother, played by Brooke Dillman) who gives her a special scroll which is actually a book written by Betty Friedan. This story aspect is a bit puzzling since my guess is that many in the audience will not recognize the reference. However, the theme is female empowerment and women's self-reliance.

The characters are likable if a bit simple.The Prince (talented Justin Guarini) is doing what he was told, even if that means he is actually the Prince for all of the Princesses. Snow White (wonderful Aisha Jackson) is naive and uneducated, and by the end, the Stepmother (played with her usual skill and humor by Jennifer Simard) realizes that she was wrong.

Cinderella isn’t content with her role. Later when she and her friend Snow learn that their prince is actually the same prince in all their stories and is cheating on them, their attitude begins to change. It’s clever to use the same Prince for all the stories since he is the ideal that the fairy tales have created

Even the stern Narrator really isn’t a bad guy, just misguided. Of course, naturally by the end, the young reader is okay with changes in fairy tales. She is a liberated well-educated child and rewriting the stories is fine with her.

If you give it a chance, “Once Upon A One More Time” is more entertaining than you’d expect. It works better if you are already a fan of Spears. It doesn't offer anything new or revolutionary; after all, Friedan’s work The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. However, the show is a vehicle for Spears’ music and an entertaining platform for a jukebox musical. And a reminder that change is often good.

Marquis Theatre
210 W. 46 St
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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