There’s just over a month left before the 2015 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, with this coming Monday’s local artist preview kicking off the final pre-fest countdown
. For many area performers, the point of producing a show at the Fringe is to have fun with friends and hopefully make a few more bucks on tickets than they spend in the beer tent (fat chance). Others dream of selling out their seven or so shows, earning a Patron’s Pick award, and perhaps extending their run on a nearby stage. But the truly ambitious should be looking at Dennis Giacino and Fiely Matias, creators of the current off-Broadway hit Disenchanted!, for proof of how far Fringe fame can take you: from Florida to Missouri to Manhattan, and all the way to … a floor in New Jersey.
I’ll admit up front that when Disenchanted (originally subtitled “Bitches of the Kingdom”) debuted at the 2011 Orlando Fringe, I was not among the first to jump on the princess parody’s bandwagon, unlike OW critic Steve Schneider, who presciently declared it the “standard-bearer of the Orlando Fringe, now and maybe forever after.” While I loved Giacino’s wickedly witty songs, Matias’ deftly delirious direction and especially the show-stopping performances by Michelle Knight’s Snow White and Lulu Picart’s Mulan, I wanted more meat to connect the stand-alone songs. Since then, the show has been workshopped numerous times in Orlando and across the country, with each new script revision sharpening the satire and adding complexity to the characters.
As a supporter of Orlando exporting its artistic talent, it’s been immensely gratifying seeing Disenchanted‘s growth over the past four years, a process that hit a new peak on April 7 with their official opening night at the off-Broadway Westside Theater. After a sold-out nine-week New York run in a 160-seat venue, the production has moved to the 270-seat stage that gave shows like John Leguizamo’s Spic-o-Rama and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (the long-running hit produced by Jonathan Pollard, who is also backing Disenchanted) their start. While visiting family over PassEaster, I had the pleasure of seeing one of Disenchanted‘s final preview performances, just a couple of days after Knight and Picart were nominated for prestigious Lucille Lortel Awards as Outstanding Lead and Featured Actresses in a Musical.
At the Westside, Disenchanted has been fleshed out with spot-on sets and costumes from Disney vets Gentry Akens and Vanessa Leuck, as well as peppy choreography by musical stager Matt West. While I miss Orlando cast member Andrea Canny’s cray-cray takes on Belle and the Little Mermaid, the current supporting players (Becky Gulsvig, Jen Bechter, Alison Burns and Soara-Joye Ross) are all excellent, as was understudy Anthea Neri, though no one can nail the comic timing of Mulan’s lesbian anthem like Picart. As the revue’s ringmaster, Knight is always in complete command of her audience, drawing helpless laughter with just an arched eyebrow or sidelong stare. Most importantly, Giacino and Matias have taken critiques (including mine) of past productions to heart and greatly enhanced the relationships between the characters, finally giving their show the emotional through-line I always craved.
After their Big Apple achievements, you might expect Giacino and Matias to have outgrown their Orlando past, but the opposite is true; the pair graciously provided me with press passes to their show and sat down with me afterward to express their gratitude to the city that supported them. “We wouldn’t be here without the Orlando Fringe,” says Matias. “We want to pay it forward and give back” by contributing artifacts to a proposed Orlando Fringe 25th anniversary museum exhibit. They also haven’t lost their sense of wonder at how far they’ve come: “It’s still fun to go over to TKTS [the Times Square ticket booth] and see our name,” says Giacino, who met Ben Vereen and was asked to write lyrics for Simon Cowell as a result of Disenchanted. “It’s funny how it happens; it just happens. It blindsides you, you have no idea it’s coming and then somebody says, ‘Let’s go do this in New York.”
Though they are currently attending and giving notes on every performance, once the show is officially open and “frozen,” Giacino and Matias will have to let it go and turn their attention to the show’s next phase, as they work on a Spanish translation for a Dominican Republic production of Desencantada. There’s also talk of licensing the script and sending it on tour, which Giacino likens to “send[ing] the kid off to college.” But despite the exciting success, one thing still hasn’t changed: Just as when I last talked to them a year ago, they are still sleeping on friends’ floors (now in New Jersey) until those big bucks come rolling in. So take note, Orlando Fringers; dreams can come true, but don’t dispose of your air mattresses just yet.