Britney Spears fans rejoice! You finally have your own jukebox Broadway musical - Once Upon a One More Time - to celebrate. For others, with a more casual acquaintance to the songs of the pop star, the show is more diverting with a problematic book, and high-octane dancing to entertain even the most jaded audience member.
The plot incorporates a catalog of the singer’s hits to advance the story and expound on characterization. We find Cinderella and many of her storybook friends, such as Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, relive their fairy tale existences over and over in a Neverland overseen by The Narrator. Everything is humming along nicely until one day Cinderella begins to question why? Is there anything else to this life? To happily ever after? An uproar ensues within the tight knit community as the various women proclaim an independence to their scripted lives. Prince charming is confused. The evil stepmother and her daughters see an opportunity to advance their agenda, and The Narrator is not pleased. There is rebellion, unforeseen consequences and, of course, a happy ending. Actually, a revisionist take on the standard happy ending.
The thrust of Jon Hartmere’s overly plotted libretto focuses on female empowerment and faith in one’s beliefs. The women of the oft-told stories want to live their own lives and not what has been dictated to them over the years. The premise is sound, but the follow through is not. Watching the musical unfold reminded me of the convoluted book of the Go Go’s musical, Head Over Heels, where the storyline became too cumbersome and uninteresting, ending in a frustrating theatrical event for devotees of the band’s output.
I was surprised how few Britney Spears songs I recognized considering her music was the soundtrack of my two daughter’s formative years. But besides such classics as “...Baby One More Time” and “Oops…I Did It Again” much of the score was unfamiliar. Many compositions seemed to be shoehorned into the book as opposed to, for example, the jukebox musical & Juliet where every song fit perfectly into each scene (incidentally, producer/writer Max Martin’s Spears’ compositions appear in both productions). Rabid followers of the singer will know every tune. Director and Choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid present many of them as high energy dance routines one might experience at a live concert or a music video on MTV (do they still show music videos?). These production numbers are augmented by a dazzling array of light and sound from Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner and Sound Designer Andre Keister. Scenic Designer Anna Fleischle adds to the party with a minimal, at times, bedazzling set for the routines. Loren Elstein’s costumes are both hip fairytale appropriate and music video chic.
Directors/Choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid are at their best with the more humorous moments of the show, but the production does bog down when scenes of earnestness or reflection take center stage. Fortunately, when this occurs, a scintillating dance number is just around the bend.
Briga Heelan, who, in her Broadway debut, is a radiant Cinderella, full of spunk and brightness. Her energy and determination help gloss over the deficiencies of the production. Justin Guarini, who has carved out a decent Broadway career since his 2nd place finish on the first season of American Idol, is a fine Prince Charming. He’s an inadvertent sexist (it’s in his DNA) and plays the role with good-natured humor. He can also keep pace with the younger ensemble members during their lively dance numbers. Adam Godley’s Narrator, in a one note portrayal, is suitably pompous, arrogant, and exacting. Jennifer Simard, a comedic delight in her previous Broadway outings, is only given slight opportunities to shine as the evil stepmother. Gleefully, each one of her scenes are quite amusing.
Once Upon a One More Time, a joyous jukebox musical for Britney Spears enthusiasts, now on Broadway.