Bliss is the latest creation from the 5th Avenue Theatre team, and is reimagining the fairy tale genre. The 5th has produced over 20 original musicals, sending many of them directly to Broadway. There have been incredible hits (Hairspray, Memphis, Come From Away) and those that were not so memorable… Bliss is currently running at the 5th Avenue Theatre through February 23, 2020. Get tickets and further info here.
The story is about four princesses in a “lost Kingdom”. The King – terrified of losing them after their mother died – locked them in a castle tower to keep them safe. Each of the girls has distinctive character traits and body types that are not ‘typical princess’. Piper is a ‘brainy nerd’ who studies astronomy; she is geeky with glasses and very intelligent. Carm ella is a girl with a rounded body, and wants to be a ‘diva’ singer. Faye is more athletic and dreams of slaying dragons, while Holly is a ‘woods-woman’ that enjoys communing with nature and the animals. The girls find a secret exit and sneak out to go to the ball of Prince Devin; a vapid, vacuous prince who enjoys nothing more than looking into his own reflection. After the girls get denied entry for their appearances and ‘not fitting in’, the fairy godfather Sir Pincus Glimmermore (for his own agenda) offers them a dip into the “Pink Lagoon” (no euphemism there). These magical waters wash away all imperfections allowing a girl to become the stereotypical “Perfect Princess” – aka very “Barbie-esque”. While all four consider the transformation, they universally decide it is better to be true to themselves than to try and be someone else: all except Piper. Piper thinks that if she changes herself, she will be able to become Queen and make positive changes for the kingdom. After Piper’s dip, she becomes another vapid clone named “Bliss”. The other princesses all realize that they were perfect in their own, original ways. The sisters must race against time, before the wedding kiss seals the deal making Piper’s insipid transformation permanent.
The cast of Bliss all does well in their roles. John-Michael Lyles plays “Toby”, the cobbler who brings shoes to the different kingdoms. He is secretly in love with Piper. Mr. Lyles is perfect for the love-interest ingénue and brings an innocent charm to his character with a voice to match. Conor Ryan plays “Prince Devin” of the Kingdom of Mirrors. Mr. Ryan has a good voice and brings the insipid prince to life as the ‘comic relief’ in the production.
Mario Cantone plays Sir Pincus Glimmermore, the fairy godfather that needs to help ‘one more princess’ in order to get his official ‘fairy wings’. His role is part narrator, part antagonist, and part comic relief as he misleads the princesses for his own personal motive. Mr. Cantone brings a humorous, almost cartoonish behavior to the role, which is pretty much what is needed when playing a ‘fairy godfather’. Noting his gravelly speaking voice, his singing voice is pleasant to hear, and he handles the songs well.
The four princesses are definitely a joy to watch. Each one has their individual personality, moment to shine, and personal characteristic trait that contribute to the story. All four do excellent jobs, with good voices and charming stage presence. Kristolyn Lloyd plays “Princes Faye”, the eldest of the sisters and unofficial surrogate mother to them all, who dreams of slaying dragons instead of reading about them. Claire Neumann plays “Holly”, who barters the outward appearance of a ‘perfect princess’ for the comforts of an outdoorsy, nature-loving gal. The episodes where she communicates with the animals (including an earthworm) are scene stealing funny. Ms. Neumann has a natural stage presence and comic timing that will take her far in the theatre world. Katy Geraghty plays “Carmella”, a princess of some girth and vocals that shakes the theatre. Her bubbly personality shines through with a kewpie doll’s voice that posses ‘Chucky’s’ razor’s bite, and a strong singing instrument to boot! This girl can siiiiing! Gizel Jiménez plays “Piper”, the more studious princess that believes that in sacrificing her individuality she can make changes for the greater good. Ms. Jiménez’s voice is soprano and clear and well suited to transforming herself singing as both Geek Princess and the Perfect Princess.
The musical itself is enjoyable, at least enjoyable enough. There are several really good songs (written by Emma Lively & Tyler Beattie) that add character development and subplots, but there are also some that just slow down the pace of the story. Some of the jokes were predictable and easy targets, but they still made the audience smile. One or two bridges of some songs might sound familiar to Theatre Queens with sharp ears. The scenes with the “Perfect Princesses” are hysterical with a good, subtle point being made without beating the audience over the head. There is the strong message of ‘girl power’ and ‘being who you are’, which is something everyone needs to hear. There are also parts of the narrative that drag out too long, and should be tightened by a good editor; Act One clocked in (on opening night) at one hour and forty-five minutes, and that was BEFORE intermission. Please note: When Wicked opened pre-Broadway (in San Francisco), it badly needed an editor and the show wasn’t perfect; it was fixed, and has now been running on Broadway for over 15 years.
Bliss, at its core, has the seed of a good musical that gets buried in its drawn out narrative. Or, to keep with the fairy tale theme, it’s a cute frog that needs to be kissed several more times before it turns into a prince.