Betty Friedan would have loved “Once Upon a One More Time”

By Lucy Komisar

Betty Friedan would have loved this musical, especially Brooke Dillman who plays O.F.G., the Original Fairy Godmother with wavy hair, a raspy voice and assertiveness that make her the feminist author’s double. I know, because I worked with Friedan in 1969 and 70. (I was a vice president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) 1970-71).

Betty Friedan and Lucy Komisar at Friedan’s Sag Harbor cottage in 2005, photo Larry Bridwell. Brooke Dillman as Betty aka the Original Fairy Godmother, photo Matthew Murphy.

Britney Spears’ disco sound is not my music. But the audience liked it. And the feminist text is clever, witty and powerful.

The idea is that the fairy tale heroines – Cinderella, Snow White and others – were groomed to be handmaidens of men (plus ça change.).

Briga Heelan as Cinderella reading the Feminine Mystique, photo Matthew Murphy.

But then Cinderella (Briga Heelan) meets O.F.G., the Original Fairy Godmother (Brooke Dillman) who gives her The Feminine Mystique. She organizes a “scroll” club. (They didn’t have “books” in those days.)

She invites Prince Charming (Justin Guarini) to come. He replies, “I don’t read.” Cinderella “Really?” Prince: “I’m not paid to think. You’re paid to be pretty and I’m paid be charming.” Cinderella: “I don’t get paid. Do you get paid?”

When you think about it, these fairy tale women suffer in their roles. The Mermaid makes a trade of her voice to a sea witch to save a prince’s life. But he marries someone else and she is given the choice of kill him or be killed. So, she chooses to give up her own life.

“So romantic!” says Snow White (Aisha Jackson).
“Is this happy ever after?” asks Cin. “I’d like to hang on to both slippers for a change or….
Snow White thinks about it: “not to get poisoned.” I liked Jackson’s R&B style.

Rapunzel (Gabrielle Beckford), “Rock my natural curls.”
Mermaid (Lauren Zakrin) (mimed), “Speak.”
Sleeping Beauty (Ashley Chiu), “Have a drama-free christening.”
Pea (Morgan Whitley), “Sleep through the night.”

Aisha Jackson, Morgan Whitley, Briga Heelan, Ashley Chiu, Gabrielle Beckford and Lauren Zakrin hear about The Feminine Mystique at the “scroll” club, photo Matthew Murphy.

But second thoughts. Cin wonders, “But maybe it’s just me…”
Sleeping Beauty, “Time for makeup.”
Princess and the Pea, “Perfect smile.”
The princesses: “Isn’t she lovely, this fairy tale girl!”

This is a terrific consciousness raising session for kids and teens. And liberation is coming!  “The Feminine Mystique” give Cinderella a dark view of what’s she’s been taught. “I know as a woman I’m supposed to love housework, but…”

Fairy Godmother: “No, you aren’t!” She gives her the book. “Princess Betty’s ideas…they’re often considered dangerous when first presented.”

But her stepsisters Betany (Tess Soltau) and Belinda (Amy Hillner Larson), and her stepmother (the terrific Jennifer Simard) sing a Spears’ fans’ favorite, “You better work, bitch.” (“You want a posh carriage; you want a hot marriage….”)

Justin Guarini as Prince Charming & Company, photo Matthew Murphy.

Follow the rules to get the guy, right. But turns out that Prince Faithful, the lover of Snow White, is cheating on her. And on Cinderella, because it’s the same Charming. He, “Ok. My kiss has woken a lot of women. I’m not bragging And I’m not proud. Ok, I’m a little bit proud…. “Let’s not make a thing out of this….We should maybe think about….a “massage your bra,” as the French say?

Cinderella: “It’s ménage à trois.” The prince isn’t just gross, he is stupid. Which leads to “Oops I did it again” one of Spears’ biggest hits. “I played with your heart, got lost in the game…”

Sleeping Beauty asks, “Are you the Prince in every story?”
Charming, “…. Oops. I think I did it again.”

Cinderella, “Charming is cheating on all of us!”
The princesses: “Womanizer, womanizer, you’re a womanizer baby.”

Just at that moment Fairy Godmother appears with Betty’s books for everyone.
Pea: “Princess Betty knows what’s best for us.”

Of course, the men will attempt to strike back. When Charming finds Snow in a clearing, he warns, “You’ll get a reputation as difficult.”

The Narrator (Adam Godley) explains that these fairy tales teach people how to see the world and accuses the women of being strident, shrill. This is the message!!  (Can’t believe this script was written by a man! Raised by a feminist mother?)

Saved by the Princess Betty book, photo Matthew Murphy.

Of course, the Narrator attacks: “It’s ruined. Centuries of tradition lost. And on my watch! Cinderella has destroyed everything! She’ll pay.”

Well, maybe not. See how this finishes in the kingdom of Flatbush.

Cinderella: “I’ve had enough. I’m not your property.”

The disco dancing (choreographed by Keone & Mari Madrid) is lively, if not my style. Same for the Britney Spears songs. They should appeal to young woman who are the focus of the story. To the delight of Princess Betty from the Kingdom of Flatbush. Wish she could have seen this! Take your kid or teen to see this play!

Once Upon a One More Time.” Book by Jon Hartmere. Based on the music of Britney Spears. Directed and choreographed by Keone & Mari Madrid. Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th Street, NYC.  Runtime 2h30.  Opened June 13, 2023, closes Sept 3, 2023. Will go on national tour. Review on NY Theatre Wire.

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