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Did Britney Spears Break the Rules of Feminism With Her New Musical?



So we all know that ex boyfriends are off-limits to friends, according to the rules of feminism… but what about clever show ideas? And what if you’re not (exactly) friends? That’s the question we’ve been debating here at Broadway Spin after news broke that there’s a new Britney Spears musical gunning for Broadway entitled Once Upon a One More Time, which offers a feminist take on fairy tales. It’s a cute premise — and much more promising than a biopic about Spears’ actual life — but it does sound eerily similar to a show created by two other female performers several years ago.

Laura Lane and Ellen Haun began performing Femme Fairy Tales at UCB’s Chelsea and Los Angeles locations in 2017 and have a book coming out next year. The name is pretty self-explanatory. What isn’t, however, is whether this is just a case of great minds thinking alike or a more direct, umm, “borrowing” of their material. Here’s what they had to say.

Ellen Haun (L) and Laura Lane (R). Not pictured: Britney Spears.

Ellen Haun (L) and Laura Lane (R). Not pictured: Britney Spears. Photo + Lead Image:  Jackie Abbott

Broadway Spin: Where did you first get the idea for Femme Fairy Tales?

Laura Lane: I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales since I was kid and spent most of my childhood dressing up my siblings and casting them in various performances in front of our fireplace which became our designated stage. Flash forward to the summer of 2017, I’m in my third sketch writing class at UCB and all I can seem to think about is fairy tales. I think it was a combination of the political climate and a need for escapism, but every week I was turning in a different fairy tale sketch for homework. The first one was about Sleeping Beauty and the glaring problem of consent in that story; the second was about Cinderella and how problematic it is to wear shoes made of glass; and the third was about Rapunzel growing out her armpit hair. At some point in class I was like, “I promise I can write about other things besides fairy tales, I’m just very into them right now and I want to turn them into a show.”

Ellen Haun: I came up to Laura after class and said, “This is a great idea and I’ll create this show with you.” I also loved fairy tales as a kid, but after watching them while babysitting as an adult, they had really started to creep me out. Our first Femme Fairy Tales show was in June 2017, but our official run started in April 2018. We ran that whole year, except for when Laura took two months off to have a baby.

LL: That was a fun turn of events. We had to rework some things once I started to show. My favorite moment was dressing up as Princess Jasmine in a crop top with a 9-month pregnant baby bump. I don’t think most of the men in the audience had seen a bare bump before. There were a lot of big eyes and people would ask afterwards if it was a fake, which I found hilarious because that would be such a weird comedic choice to make.

BS: Many jukebox musicals have struggled on Broadway. Do you think Britney Spears stands to have a better outcome because of the feminist angle the team has attached?

EH: Well, musicals with strong female leads have been having a moment — Mean Girls, Frozen, Waitress, Cher. Broadway and theatre audiences respond to well-written stories about powerful, complicated women. I wish that Hollywood would pay attention to that.

LL: I can see Britney Spears making a cameo and people losing their minds. I would lose my mind!

BS: What was your first reaction upon hearing the news about this Spears show when it sounded so similar to your own? Your real reaction.

LL: When the show was announced, friends and people who had seen our show kept texting me links saying, “Britney stole your show idea!” Which is funny because Britney obviously has no idea who I am, has never seen our show and also, we do not own the idea of re-telling fairy tales. I doubt the writers of the show saw our show either. In comedy, there’s something called “parallel thinking,” which happens a lot when something is in the zeitgeist.

EH: I think the idea is brilliant. Princesses are in a book club and their lives change when they read The Feminine Mystique? That’s hysterical and awesome. Right now, people want to see princesses taking back agency in their original fairy tales. With everything that’s happened in the last few years, taking these stories back and re-telling them is important… but the reality is that Broadway musicals and sketch comedy shows don’t really overlap when they’re developing. Even though UCB has recently moved to 42nd Street!

BS: Britney Spears: feminist role model or feminist nightmare?

LL: She is a complicated figure. She was thrust into the spotlight and sexualized by others [mostly older men] at a very young age. Needless to say, I don’t think I can answer this question fully without writing a Britney Spears thesis. At this point in her career, she is trying to send a feminist message by participating in this show and that can only be good for young women.

EH: And anyone who can dance with a real life boa constrictor is fearless and an icon.

Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling and other Feminist Fairy Tales comes out in March of 2020. Once Upon a One More Time begins performances in Chicago October 29.