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Women flex muscles in First Pres’ ‘Disenchanted’

All-female cast looks to set record straight on Disney depictions

"Disenchanted" opens at First Presbyterian Theater on Oct. 14.

Published October 5, 2022

Don’t let the name fool you. Disenchanted is no Disney production, and that’s not just because it’s rated PG-13. It’s because these are no Disney princesses.

First Presbyterian Theater is taking on the Off-Broadway musical comedy written by Dennis T. Giacino that takes aim at what he saw as inaccuracies of the female characters in Disney movies.

“(Giacino) did a very funny way of telling the true stories from the viewpoint of the princesses,” said Todd Sandman Cruz, First Pres director of Fine and Performing Arts Ministry.

With an all-female cast and Ranae Butler directing, Disenchanted opens Friday, Oct. 14, and will run for six shows through Sunday, Oct. 23.

correcting inaccuracies

Disenchanted, affectionately known as DIS!, had its first workshop in 2009 and its first Off-Broadway reading in 2012. Since then, it has spread across the globe with its message, which is also how it came to Fort Wayne.

“What drew me to want to add it to the season was, first off, it’s an all-female cast, and there’s so much talent in Fort Wayne, that to have an all-female cast was a great thing,” Sandman Cruz said. “It’s also a real fun way to look at female empowerment. The princesses are basically taking the power back from the animators and the writers. Their stories have really been misrepresented in many cases and had things added to them that weren’t there.”

While some Disney stories are based in reality, such as Pocahontas and Mulan, others are from fables such as Grimm. Regardless of where they came from, many of the stories were twisted to fit into a Disney narrative.

With that in mind, there aren’t going to be any ballroom gowns or prancing going on on the First Pres stage.

“The playwright is very specific, it’s right there in the script, that these should not look like Disney princesses,” Sandman Cruz said. “They should be real women of all ages, sizes, and not in Disney princess gowns. They are real women with well-deserved chips on their shoulders.”

That’s what drew Butler to it.

“We wanted to have a diverse representation of women,” she said about the auditioning process. “I wanted princesses that were not all 17 (years old). Obviously, because I’m a woman who is not playing the ingénue roles anymore, I believe very much in creating opportunity for that talent pool.”

choosing diverse cast

And when it came to trimming that talent pool down, Sandman Cruz, Butler, and musical director Gary Amstutz had some choices to make, although this cast didn’t require sleepless nights.

“It usually takes me a few days to process, but we all went out afterwards and we had a cast, I think before the pizza got there,” Sandman Cruz said. “It really fell into place.”

There can be a tug of war between a musical director who wants the best singers and the director who is seeking the best actress. However, that wasn’t really the case here.

“We have some excellent singers,” Amstutz said. “We have some excellent actresses, and (Butler) is bringing out the acting in the people that don’t have experience, and I’m trying to bring out the music in those that don’t.”

While watching auditions, Butler was looking for actresses that could have some fun.

“You have to have people who are willing to play,” she said. “In auditions, we played theater games just to see who was willing to play. A director is only one mind. If I wanted it to be all my ideas, I’d do a puppet show. A play is where a whole bunch of people can collaborate and tell the story.”

fun night out with the girls

To help tell that story, DIS! is set up like a talk show, with Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty acting as hosts, bringing their guests out to tell their sides of the story, while Amstutz works as the bandleader.

Now with a chance to set the record straight, the Disney characters aren’t holding back, which might explain the PG-13 rating, so it might not be suitable for your princess-loving child. Instead of bringing your child, you might want to find a sitter and call up your friends.

“What this is, is it’s the best girls’ night out in October,” Sandman Cruz said. “They’re going to be able to buy tiaras and big rings and scepters. It’s going to be a real fun night out.”

A fun night that might also have you leaving the theater with a new mindset.

“We always want to have a couple of shows that are a little more hard-hitting, that make people think,” Sandman Cruz said.

According to Amstutz, DIS! is a musical that is long overdue.

“One of the things that I liked about it is, it’s sending a strong message,” he said. “There’s a nice message here of empowering women, equality in gender and race, but it’s presented in a comedy. Whenever you have a strong message, and it comes through in comedy, everyone pays attention. Whether or not the agree with the message, it gets people’s attention.”

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