Once Upon a One More Time review: Britney Spears’ awful show

Fresh off of “Bad Cinderella” comes the new Broadway musical “Once Upon a One More Time” — an even worse Cinderella.

Theater review

Two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. At the Marquis Theatre.

The dreadful show, which opened Thursday night at the Marquis Theatre, takes the pop songs of Britney Spears and plops them willy-nilly in a feminist Cinders in which the main character realizes there’s more to life than falling in love with a prince.

Good for you, Cindy, but wouldn’t it be nice if you were both a freethinking, independent woman and your musical’s story made a lick of sense?

It’s bibbidi-bobbidi-brainless. Instead of crafting compelling characters or a gripping plot, book writer Jon Hartmere has combined dance floor tunes from the aughts and half-baked, teacher’s-pet ideas into shapeless mush.

“Once Upon” is rarely fun, but always cloying and impossible to follow.

Cinderella (played as a one-note deer in the headlights by Briga Heelan) starts to realize that “happily ever after” is a whole lotta hooey while hanging with her pals Snow White (Aisha Jackson), Sleeping Beauty (Ashley Chiu), Rapunzel (Gabrielle Beckford), Princess Pea (Morgan Whitley) and the Little Mermaid (Lauren Zakrin). 

The princesses start "Once Upon A One More Time" by singing "Baby One More Time."
The princesses start “Once Upon A One More Time” by singing “Baby One More Time.”
Matthew Murphy

The damsels sing “Baby One More Time” at the start of the show as they’re trying to woo princes. But Cinderella has a different idea for her future than settling down.

“Sometimes I do think, gosh, maybe I’d like to, I dunno, hang onto both slippers for a change,” she says with the guilelessness of Betty White on “The Golden Girls.” “Or stay out past midnight.” 

The whole musical is more of the same old take-back-the-narrative, girl-power messaging used by “Six” and “& Juliet,” only without their smarts or watchability.

The princess posse gag, by the way, has been done far better and more cleverly by the movies “Shrek” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” The novelty of a fairytale meet-up has worn off, especially with the actresses donning Loren Elstein’s vague costumes that are so determined to not look like Disney, they don’t look like much of anything.

Songs like "Toxic,' "Crazy" and "Stronger" are used in the Britney Spears show.
Songs like “Toxic,’ “Crazy” and “Stronger” are used in the Britney Spears show.
Matthew Murphy

The narrator (Adam Godley) wants rebellious Cinderella to stick to the script. But her Fairy Godmother — called The O.F.G. for maximum annoyance — walks on and hands her a copy of “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan and tells the girl that she and Betty live together in Flatbush.


And that strange moment, somehow, is considered enough to hang a two-and-a-half-hour musical on.

Prince Charming is here, of course. A very good Justin Guarani sings “Oops!… I Did It Again” because the Casanova’s been hitting on multiple princesses, Scandoval-style. 

The excellent Jennifer Simard plays the Stepmother and, just like Carolee Carmello as the Stepmother in “Bad Cinderella,” is the best part of a middling show. Whenever Simard is on stage the audience is relieved, like they’ve just found a cold bottle of Poland Spring in the Sahara. 

Adam Godley plays the Narrator and Jennifer Simard is the Stepmother in "Once Upon A One More Time."
Adam Godley plays the Narrator and Jennifer Simard is the Stepmother in “Once Upon A One More Time.”
Matthew Murphy

The sweet Ryan Steele plays Prince Erudite, a bashful suitor with a secret. 

And, as the narrator, Godley is … British.

For many the story nit-picking won’t matter so long as Spears’ hits are here: “Toxic,” “Crazy,” “Stronger” and more are shoved in the jampacked suitcase. And, yes, they’re terrific songs.

The problem is that, unlike that of ABBA or Celine Dion, Spears’ oeuvre simply is not theatrical music. Taken en masse, they grow exhausting and, dare I say, dull.

Co-directors/choreographers Keone Madrid and Mari Madrid stage the numbers energetically, but the moment they end they’re completely forgotten. 

They’re not helped at all by Anna Fleischle’s sets, which are flimsy and sparse and not effective in differentiating one location from the next.

How surreal it is to watch giant talents like Godley (earth-shattering in “The Lehman Trilogy”), Simard (a comic genius in “Company”) and Steele (a sensational dancer) wasted in this wreck. They are wonderful and manage to spin straw into gold here, and the audience is happy to see them.

But I look forward to seeing them all in something not so toxic.

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