While Disney princesses are loved the world over, many people don’t know that the characters are based on real historical figures or darker fairy tales. That changed in 2011 when history teacher Dennis Giacino created the musical Disenchanted!.
Disenchanted! is a cabaret-style show that features 10 “Disney” princesses speaking out about their treatment in the House of Mouse. The show started as an Orlando Fringe show and has since gone on to sell out shows around the world and Off-Broadway.
Before the show’s magnificent return to the City Beautiful, where Disenchanted! will play at The Plaza Live April 11-20, Mulan herself (as well as Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour) Ann Paula Bautista took a few moments to speak to us about playing some kickass women.
Watermark: For those who don’t know, what is Disenchanted! about?
Ann Paula Bautista: Disenchanted! is basically the Disney princesses that we all know and love crossed with the historical figures that they actually were: The real women of history coming out and reacting to the way that Disney has created them and has portrayed them. It’s a cabaret-style kind of show where we all put in our two cents about how we actually feel about it.
How long have you been with the show?
I’ve been with the tour since it started in April of last year, starting with our run in Chicago and I’ve just been going on and off ever since and just having a blast. It’s such a crazy, fun show. It never gets tiring.
I know that you play multiple characters in it and they differ from the Disney versions. Let’s talk about Mulan first. How does she differ from how she’s portrayed as a Disney character?
We don’t lose any of Mulan’s spunk or any of her kickass-ery, if you will. She’s still a very strong, independent woman, but we find out something about Mulan in the show that people don’t really expect. In the movie, she finds love, but in our show she realizes something about herself that people won’t expect. She’s actually a lesbian. She comes out and she goes, ‘I might be lesbian. Yes, I love it and it’s who I am.’ She’s living her truth. She’s my main role and I have the most fun with her.
Speaking of Mulan being a lesbian, there’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately about gay characters in Disney films. Speaking of the lesbian princesses, there’s been hints with Merida from Brave and Elsa from Frozen. Why do you think they haven’t taken that leap to confirm that a Disney princess is an out and proud lesbian?
I think people are really starting to come around. I think now, with technology, people are able to have a wider view of each other’s differences and are more open-minded, but that hesitation to take that final leap is harder for them to do because of a belief structure people were raised with. That’s why I love this show, not only with Mulan, but with other characters. I get to play these really strong, kickass women who live their truth and are not afraid to do that.
With a traveling show like this, you hit some of those smaller towns that aren’t necessarily exposed to different beliefs and people like the princesses. Have you gotten any feedback, either positive or negative, from the people who come and see the show about Mulan being a lesbian?
I play Mulan as open and true as possible. She’s a big ball of love and excitement. If it has offended anyone, I haven’t seen it, thankfully, but I can’t help but be a little bit nervous when we go into smaller towns. If anything, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from audience members. We meet with audience members after the show and we do the selfies and we get to connect with the people who come to see our show every night. I get a lot of younger patrons who come up to me and go, ‘I’ve been waiting for a gay princess for so long and I’m so happy to see that represented.’ It warms my heart because I give people who haven’t been represented in those classic fairytale stories a chance to connect to someone. It’s been such a great journey for me as an actor to let people feel that.
You also play Pocahontas. How is she different in Disenchanted! than in the Disney classic?
The way that she was written for Disney was as a love story. As history is actually told, she was a child when she met John Smith. Pocahontas really makes sure that people know what her story is in this. She gets a very heartfelt song in the show that has a very strong message. She stands by her history and is proud to talk about it. It’s a very cool song and she’s a cool girl.
The third princess is a little lesser known because she is tied to Aladdin who traditionally, through Disney, is with Jasmine. Who’s the third character you play?
Badroulbadour, Princess Badroulbadour. She is the one who is supposed to hide behind Aladdin. In the way history portrays her, she’s a woman who doesn’t have a say in her own life and she’s married off. Her job is to have children and do all the things that women are supposed to do. In our story, she really wants to stick it to the man. She’s sassier then the other princesses and not afraid to tell them off. I get to wear a beautifully crazy and hilarious costume that audiences love.
Did Disney change the character’s name to Jasmine because it was harder to say?
A lot of the characters are westernized. There are a couple songs in the show about it actually. We have fun telling the truth of, not only my characters, but all our characters because they were definitely westernized by Disney.
Are you nervous about bringing the show back to Orlando with Disney being up the street?
Disney came to see it in 2014 when it was off-Broadway. They loved it. It was before my time with the show, but they really enjoyed it. We hope for no heckling from Mickey or Minnie [laughs] and the princesses from our show plan on going to Disney while we are there. We’re excited to be in Orlando and we are very excited for the warm weather [laughs].
Disenchanted! has an all-female cast. Is it empowering working with a group of talented women every night or more intimidating?
It is one of the most empowering shows I’ve ever done. We’ve definitely built a camaraderie within our cast and our crew. We do have gentlemen in our crew and they keep it interesting, but we’ve become a big family. The show is not just for women; it’s to inform gentlemen too. It’s about informing everyone. Some of our largest laughs come from gentlemen who don’t expect to enjoy a princess show. Last night we had a gentleman who was just hollering because he was not expecting for us to go as far as we do with the jokes and the stories. Yes, it’s a show for independent women, but we are not at all exclusive. We want people to know that this is for everyone because knowledge is power at the end of the day, right?
Indeed. You mention some of the racier jokes and songs, because it’s a little edgier than your standard Disney movie. Is this a show to leave the younger kids at home for?
Parental guidance is strongly encouraged. We do have some racier jokes that would honestly fly over their heads, but it does have a strong message of living your truth. It’s a cool way to see that princesses come in all shapes and sizes. It’s definitely a little bit racy, so if parents aren’t comfortable we understand, but we have heart and a good message.
Have you seen some younger audiences coming to the show?
We do. We have had children come in with their parents. It’s definitely one of those shows that you have conversations with your child after. We talk about body image, confidence and all of those things that are strong building blocks for children to learn about as they grow up.