The new musical, set to the pop hits of Britney Spears, modernizes classic fairy tales for the Broadway stage.
Starring Briga Heelan, Justin Guarini, and Aisha Jackson, the new show begins performances on May 13 at the Marquis Theatre.
Audiences can expect a mixture of favorite Britney hits, as well as new-and-improved fairy tale stories with a lens of humor and empathy.
How to describe a Broadway musical that updates classic fairy tales with a hilarious script and cutting-edge choreography, set to the pop hits of Britney Spears? That’s the happy challenge for the three charismatic young leads in Once Upon a One More Time, the highly anticipated new show set to begin performances May 13 at the Marquis Theatre. “I don’t think anyone has ever seen or imagined the world we are creating,” says Briga Heelan, a TV comedy veteran (Great News) making her Broadway debut as Cinderella. In a joint video interview with Broadway Direct, Heelan and her costars Justin Guarini (American Idol, Wicked), who plays Prince Charming, and Aisha Jackson (Frozen, Paradise Square), cast as Snow White, shared their excitement about bringing a new definition of “happily ever after” to audiences of all ages.
Once Upon a One More Time flips the script of fairy tales and gives these larger-than-life characters permission to reexamine their story lines. What’s fun about inhabiting this world?
Briga Heelan: I grew up watching every iteration of Cinderella, and I couldn’t love a character more than I love “Cin.” At the same time, as an adult and a parent [of a 6-year-old daughter], it’s cool to look at the stories we grew up with and ask questions about them. How much are we willing to let the stories we tell our children change and take on new meanings?
Justin Guarini: I never looked deeply at these stories until I started working on this show. It was really through the comedy that I started to think, “Oh my goodness, this is a little messed up!” [They all laugh.] What’s interesting is the opportunity to tell the stories through different perspectives. Aisha is playing Snow White. We have other actors who don’t necessarily fit into the stereotypical mold of fairy tales. My hope is that everyone who comes can look up on stage and say, “I see myself.”
Aisha Jackson: I love the fact that we get to put our own spin on these characters. I had the privilege of playing Anna, another princess, on Broadway [in Frozen]. I don’t look like the Anna everyone has seen in the movies, but it was cool to be able to embody her. Now I get to dive into Snow White, who is innocent and gentle and a little naïve, but who can also be goofy. It’s a blessing to be able to represent the little “chocolate drops” in the audience and to make the character my own.
Let’s talk Britney Spears: Were you a fan of hers growing up?
AJ: I grew up in a household where we listened to gospel music. [Laughs.] I did know her classics, but I’ll let these two get into it.
JG: I had the interesting perspective of stepping into my own opportunities in the music world [after the 2002 season of American Idol] around the time bubblegum pop music was huge, so yes, I’ve been a fan for a long time. I’ve also had the chance to interact with Britney, and every time we’ve talked, she has been the most lovely, sweet, and kind. She’s one of those performers who was a defining force in pop music for women and men alike.
BH: The word fan doesn’t really cover it! I just feel like I grew up with her. I remember feeling drawn to her energy and the way she moved through space. Her music has always been my favorite, whatever age I am. It brings back this authentic, young part of myself — little Briga.
Which hit songs are you most excited to perform in the show?
JG: “Oops! … I Did It Again,” definitely, and “Circus,” because that’s the big number.
AJ: You’re amazing! It’s so good!
JG: When we did “Circus” [in a 2021 pre-Broadway run in Washington, D.C.], it was hard, and now we’ve put in new choreography that’s twice as hard. [Director/choreographers] Keone and Mari [Madrid] are artists in the deepest sense of the word, and it permeates everything they do.
BH: With all these numbers, whoever is not in them is standing offstage watching and shrieking. We tend to get philosophical about our characters, but their stories are told with the sickest choreography, mixes, and orchestrations. The fact that the show achieves both those things is what makes it so special.
AJ: We get to empower the audience, but also give them an amazing pop concert and make them laugh and scream.
JG: You get these wild music video–type numbers, but also things like the song “Lucky,” with simple hand choreography. I’m not even in it — I stand offstage and watch Briga and Aisha and the other princesses and just weep because of how beautifully Keone and Mari’s choreography melds with the story we’re telling.
Given pandemic delays, this show has had a long period of development. What does it mean to you to be opening on Broadway?
AJ: I did the first reading in 2017, and it has evolved so much. When I saw the marquee, I bawled my eyes out [Laughs.] It’s a dream come true, and I’m very happy and grateful to see it come to life.
JG: I feel like the show is happening at the right time, with the right people. When Briga joined, it was like, “Ah! There’s Cinderella!” I’m looking forward to seeing these two and the rest of our cast up there getting the due they deserve for the work they’ve put in. It’s a challenging show for us as performers and yet it leaps off the stage.
BH: [Broadway] has been my deepest dream for my whole life. I went to college for musical theater, and then my life went in a different direction. I’m thankful, because that’s how I had my family [her future husband, Rene Gube, costarred with her in the sitcom Ground Floor], but I felt like I was drifting further and further away from the mother ship [of musicals]. When, out of nowhere, I was asked to audition for this show, I couldn’t believe it! All the things I love so deeply are present in this piece.
We can’t wait to see it. How would you sum up what audiences can expect at Once Upon a One More Time?
JG: It’s a mixture of all your favorite pop music, all the great memories you have surrounding Britney Spears, and all the lessons you’ve learned from fairy tales, as well as a journey through issues in the world today, viewed through a lens of humor, empathy, and varied perspectives. At the end of the day, it is an awesome, fun show that you’re going to want to sing along with and bring the whole family to. It’s just that good.
BH: What can I say after that? [Laughs.] I remember seeing people in D.C. who must have been in their eighties, standing in the fourth row and dancing through the mega-mix, and I thought, “OK — we got this!” I hope it brings people of all ages together and helps them feel connected.
AJ: I hope people walk away with a sense of joy and excitement about what is possible for them. I hope it breaks down ideas of having to look a certain way or act a certain way and gives people the freedom to ask themselves “What do I actually want? What does happiness look like for me, and how can I pursue that?” I just hope audiences walk away feeling good, feeling empowered, and having some laughter as medicine for the soul. I hope they feel the love and light we are pouring into this show.
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