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image002 Once upon a time, lovely young princesses had their life stories compiled by writers such as the Brothers Grimm and read to children. But through the centuries, those stories got twisted — and now those fair maidens are royally ticked off. That’s the conceit of “Disenchanted,” a homegrown musical comedy created by two former Disney World workers. The play begins its Orlando run Friday night on its way to the off-Broadway stages of New York City. “Disenchanted” comes along as princess power seems more embedded in pop culture than ever. Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” star in a popular Internet gag that shows them usingInstagram, the online photo-sharing site. At various blogs, artists post depictions of the princesses as Japanese anime figures or evil versions of themselves. A YouTube video mixes images of the Disney cartoons with catty comments from the movie “Mean Girls.” And that’s just the unofficial onslaught. For the Walt Disney Co., Disney Princess merchandise is a key moneymaker. Raking in billions of dollars annually, it was ranked the top licensed product line in the world this year by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. A Disney spokeswoman would not comment for this story. “Disney has probably done more of keeping the princess ideal alive than anyone else,” especially through videotape and DVD sales, said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in pop culture. “All the times kids played ‘Cinderella’ or’Sleeping Beauty’ is still lodged in their cerebral cortex.” Orlando resident Renee Pancoast’s daughters were avid fans. “My younger daughter made my older one watch ‘The Little Mermaid’ seven times in one day,” recalled Pancoast, 57. “They both knew every song by heart. I was afraid they’d break the VHS tape.” Now adults, they still have a soft spot for the princesses
. One daughter will wear a “Little Mermaid” T-shirt when she competes in an upcoming Disney Princess Half Marathon. And demonstrating the princesses’ generational appeal, Pancoast gave DVDs of the 2012 Disney film “Brave” to her daughters — and her four granddaughters — for Christmas. Her girls enjoyed the films for the music and good-vs.-evil story lines, Pancoast said. However, the stories occasionally are criticized for their emphasis on the princesses’ beauty and the idea that happily ever after arrives only if a woman lands a prince. Disney’s glamorous, more feminine redesign of tomboy Merida, the heroine of “Brave,” sparked an online protest this year. Even the film’s co-director publicly called Merida’s makeover “atrocious.” In “Disenchanted,” writer Dennis Giacino said, he tackles more mature issues such as body image, self-esteem, sexuality and racism with humor. “Underneath the comedy is a message of self-acceptance and feeling confident about who you are as a person,” said director Fiely Matias. “There are a lot of hot-button issues,” he said, “but we feel it’s better to tackle them with humor.” The goal is not to take on the Disney behemoth, according to Matias and Giacino, who say they are fans of the company’s films. “The whole point is these are not the Disney characters,” said Giacino, 53. “We started at the same public-domain well that Disney went to.” Orlando theatergoers saw the first version of the show with a looser story line and coarser title at the 2011 Fringe Festival. Giacino and Matias, who called themselves the “Oops Guys,” were well-known in local theater circles for their campy comedies and musical revues. The partners, who now are based in New York, say their Disney friends have seen “Disenchanted” and enjoyed it. “They really get it,” said Matias, 47. The show has struck a chord across the country with successful runs in cities such as Los Angeles; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Rochester, N.Y.; and Sarasota. After Orlando, “Disenchanted” will play as part of Tampa’s touring Broadway series for several months before heading off-Broadway. Princess popularity gave them a vehicle to broaden their audience, Giacino and Matias said. “Everybody from young to old has grown up with some version of these princesses,” Matias said. Added Giacino: “And everybody likes to poke a little fun … and knock someone off their pedestal.” or 407-420-5038 ‘Disenchanted’ •What: Musical comedy about favorite fairy-tale princesses, for teenagers and older •Where: The Abbey, 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando •When: Select days and times, including matinees and late-night shows, Sept. 20 through Oct. 27. Complete schedule at •Tickets: $40 general, $50 VIP •Call: 866-468-7630 (Photo: Dennis Giacino (left) and Fiely Matias, who wrote and performed in Orlando as the Oops Guys, are the creative team behind “Disenchanted.” (ERIC ESTEBAN / September 19, 2013)