Find Us

Once Upon a One More Time

Once Upon a One More Time

Inspired by the Music Performed and Recorded by Britney Spears

Shakespeare Theatre Company

By: Jordan Wright

December 23, 2021

Justin Guarini (center) and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Going in I wondered if I would know any of the pop diva’s songs. It turns out a few were instantly recognizable, though you need not have them on your playlist to have heard them somewhere. This is the direction bio-musicals have been taking lately. Sourcing songs that are already tried and true. Add backstory and it’s on. For Once Upon a One More Time the writers chose “Pop Princess” Britney Spears who inspired this musical. No surprise she would get her due. With hundreds of millions of records sold worldwide, the show should bring in legions of her fans. So, far be it from me to critique a show that has already broken all box office records at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

There are shows I felt were not ready for their expected B’way debuts, which is where this is headed as soon as we can get past this damn pandemic. And I fear this could be one of them. Most, by the time they open in New York, have been trimmed down, beefed up, graced with better lighting, slick video projections and new sets. I hope this run will give the show the polish it needs before it hits the big time. Again, haters keep your claws drawn. It’s only my opinion. Stick with me. 

What I did find was a wonderful plot that echoes the “Me Too” movement – before little girls grow up and face misogyny, glass ceilings and male domination. It’s Keone and Mari Madrid’s creative direction and Jon Hartmere’s book that shoots down that clichéd fantasy and teaches girls about self-empowerment in a light-hearted and tuneful way. For decades, these fairy tales have been eagerly served up to little girls from the time they can sit still long enough to listen to a bedtime story. “Your prince will come and your dreams of being rescued by a tall, dark and handsome (and rich) man will be realized,” we tell them. This version destroys the myth that Prince Charming will come along and solve your lack of confidence, money and/or singlehood. Of course, these fairy tale girls are ravishing and conveniently, have a prince in their neighborhood. Oh, how we indoctrinate little girls into being subservient to men. This should dispel that myth in a heartbeat.

Here the wicked stepmother, who equates female empowerment with witchcraft, features prominently as do the snippy stepsisters, Belinda and Betany. Drawing on Betty Friedan’s feminist book, “The Feminine Mystique”, the Original Fairy Godmother alerts Cinderella to the power of activism and self-actualization and she encourages them to go on strike against the curmudgeonly Narrator. “If you wanna hang on to your slippers,” OFG advises Cinderella, “you gotta learn to put your foot down.” This is where I totally buy in.

Accordingly, Prince Charming has few redeeming social qualities. He is a womanizer who is charming, handsome and vapid but never has an actual name in any of the fairy tales. Think about that! There are silly jokes, sight gags, physical comedy and tons of dance numbers with some of Spears’ songs created with new lyrics designed to underpin the plot. Other songwriters like Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry have contributed material. What this all has to do with Britney’s real life, I have no idea, although I suppose you could connect it to her court case against her father – appointed her conservator years ago and recently defeated in court. That’s a sort of happy ending in and of itself.

The huge cast features Briga Heelan as Cinderella; Brooke Dillman as Original Fairy Godmother; Aisha Jackson as Snow White; Belinda Allyn as Belle; Justin Guarini as Prince Charming; Wonu Ogunfowora as Rapunzel; Morgan Weed as Princess and the Pea; Jennifer Florentino as Little Red Riding Hood; Selene Haro as Gretel; Amy Hillner Larsen as Goldilocks; Emily Skinner as Stepmother; MiMi Scardulla as Belinda; Tess Soltau as Betany; Raymond J. Lee as Clumsy/Prince Ebullient; Ryan Steele as Prince Erudite; Stephen Brower as Prince Suave; Stephen Scott Wormley as Prince Affable; Joshua Johnson as Prince Brawny; Kevin Trinio Perdido as Prince Mischievous; Michael McGrath as Narrator; Adrianna Weir or Mila Weir as Little Girl.

Creative Design and Choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid; Creative Consultant David Leveaux; Scenic Design by Anna Fleischle; Lighting by Sonono Nishikawa; Costume Design by Loren Elstein; and Sound Design by Andrew Keister.

Through January 2, 2022 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit

Brooke Dillman, Briga Heelan and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Cast of Once Upon A One More Time
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Comments are closed.