The Britney Spears jukebox musical “Once Upon a One More Time” is not a bio-show recounting the singer’s life. Rather, it retrofits two dozen of her songs — including “Oops! … I Did It Again,” “Womanizer,” “Toxic,” “Gimme More” and, of course, “ … Baby One More Time” — to tell the story of a fair-haired princess who, realizing she has been played by a handsome rogue and controlled by an omnipresent father figure, rises up and fights for her emancipation.
Hmm, maybe the (fully authorized) apple does not fall far from the tree.
But this big, splashy show, which is quite entertaining at times, is hampered by a shambolic jumble of sisterhood 101 messaging and defanged fantasy revisionism. Rewriting classic yarns with a pop-feminist spin has become big business, with Disney updating its operating system one property at a time, and princesses and fairy tales calcifying into common tropes of empowerment pep on Broadway — think “Frozen,” “Aladdin,” “Bad Cinderella” or, for an artistically successful example, “Head Over Heels.”
“Once Upon a One More Time” banks on a familiar figure, Cinderella (Briga Heelan), who here is starting to feel vaguely antsy about her life. She and her fellow storybook heroines — Snow White (Aisha Jackson), Princess Pea (Morgan Whitley), Rapunzel (Gabrielle Beckford), Sleeping Beauty (Ashley Chiu) and Little Mermaid (Lauren Zakrin) — are bossed around by an imperious Narrator (Adam Godley, for whom this must feel like a vacation after “The Lehman Trilogy”). He is basically a domineering stage manager acting on behalf of the patriarchy.
Although Cinderella is supposed to be content in the happy-ever-after, her loneliness just might be killing her. But shush, pretty lady, push these thoughts out of your lovely head: As her prince (Justin Guarini) soothingly informs her, “You’re paid to be pretty, and I’m paid to be charming.”