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Britney's Broadway Musical Features a Fairy-Tale Gay Romance

Britney's Broadway Musical Features a Fairy-Tale Gay Romance


Britney's Broadway Musical Features a Fairy-Tale Gay Romance

Nathan Levy and Ryan Steele

Actors Nathan Levy and Ryan Steele talk staging a queer happily-ever-after to Britney Spears hits.

Ryan Steele’s first CD was Britney Spears’s …Baby One More Time. Well, technically it belonged to his older sister. But the actor fondly recalls having childhood dance parties to the pop star’s debut studio album, which skyrocketed Spears to worldwide fame in 1999. Enchanted, he and his sibling even created choreography for some of the tracks of Baby and Spears’s sophomore album, Oops!... I Did It Again.

“We had a really good one to ‘Lucky,’” remembers Steele, referencing a ballad about a celebrity with a “lonely heart” who appears to have everything.

Today, Steele is showcasing his Britney dance moves for a wider audience on Broadway in Once Upon a One More Time, a jukebox musical of Spears hits. The book by Jon Hartmere retells the stories of fairy-tale characters like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. In a twist, these princesses have a feminist awakening after reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

In this fantasy land, Steele portrays Prince Erudite, a character created for the show who is a trusted advisor of Prince Charming. Erudite falls for Clumsy, Snow White’s eighth dwarf and her personal attendant, who is yearning for his own happily ever after. Clumsy is played by Nathan Levy, who, at 23, had not grown up with Spears’s oeuvre. But thanks to his job, he is now an ardent fan.

“It’s fierce that this is my proper introduction to all of her discography. And it’s so much fun to sing these songs. I can’t believe, even on the first day of rehearsal…we were learning harmonies to ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’ That does not happen in a normal Broadway process,” marvels Levy, whose previous Broadway credit is the far more somber Dear Evan Hansen.

In a nutshell, Once Upon a One More Time is “about people trying to write their own stories and figuring out what happily ever after means…to all of these characters trying to go on this new journey of self-discovery and love,” Levy notes. “And it’s a lot of fun dancing.”

According to Steele, who first signed on to the project in 2020, the idea of a musical centered on fairy tales came from Spears; she did not want a Britney-esque character at its center. But the story about women finding their voices proved to be a prescient one. As background, the show preceded the #FreeBritney movement and the ultimate termination of her conservatorship. Initially set to premiere in Chicago in 2019, Once Upon a One More Time was delayed due to the pandemic. It first opened in Washington, D.C., at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2021.

Ultimately, #FreeBritney recontextualized Once Upon a One More Time for its cast, who now see its tale of female liberation as an important part of Spears’s legacy. “It feels especially important to bring that [story] to the stage every night, to represent what she’s always been fighting for,” Steele says.

“She lends all of her music to us, and in return, all that we can do is do her justice,” says Levy, adding, “She’s reclaiming her own [voice] now, which is really exciting.”

Once Upon a One More Time has many Easter eggs for Spears fans. The show is directed and choreographed by Keone and Mari Madrid, the award-winning dance couple whose past collaborators include Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish. They know their material. At any moment on stage, a move could reference an iconic music video like “Oops!...I Did It Again” or a moment from Spears’s 2000 concert tour.

Spears is known for her passion in communicating to her fans through dance — and the musical is no different. “We were never put on stage without knowing what every step meant in terms of storytelling, but also what every step meant in honoring Britney,” Steele says.

The resulting fan energy creates an experience that feels special to both performers. “Truly, every night feels like opening night,” says Steele, whose other Broadway credits include West Side Story, Newsies, and Matilda. “It’s a concert. It’s really cool.” Levy adds, “Right at the opening number, she sings, ‘Oh baby, baby.’ And the audience, we got them right from that moment, and we know we’re in for a night.”

Another singular experience for these actors? The chance to bring a gay love story to Broadway. “I have never felt more myself onstage, and I didn’t really realize how much that meant to me on a personal level,” Steele attests. “So I’m really honored to be able to do this, and it also helps me with my craft. I’m new to comedy, and it’s a really hard thing. But to be able to be this close to my authentic self is really helping my performance.”

This representation matters a great deal to audience members too. “My favorite thing is getting approached by specifically an older generation of queer people, who…say that they’ve never seen themselves reflected on stage in the way that they see in our show,” says Steele.

“It’s also interesting on the other end of that, to see these young kids and teenagers who are fortunate enough to see this representation now,” Levy adds. “It’s such transformative years in their discovery and self-discovery. We don’t take it lightly.”

Of course, Once Upon a One More Time’s queer storyline — and its incorporation of feminism into children’s stories — could easily draw boos from conservatives in a time when these themes are being attacked and censored. But Steele and Levy recount overwhelmingly positive reactions from their nightly audience, which hails from all corners.

“It has been really special to see how the reaction doesn’t really change,” Steele says. “And especially Nathan and I, the culmination of our relationship onstage ends with a kiss, spoiler alert. But every single night, eight shows a week, we get an applause. We get screams for that kiss, a queer kiss onstage, and knowing that we have people from all over the country in the audience is really, really fucking special. And also, I think about the life of the show moving forward. I really hope that it gets to live on with a national tour or with international companies, just so the story can be told. Not only the queer part of the story, but just telling your own story in the feminism [aspect].”

“We feel really honored to be a part of something that just brings so much joy,” Levy says. “And you hear the oohs and the aahs and the gasps and the, ‘Yeah, you better!’.… We hope that that is something that people take home and ponder and question and have conversations [about].”

But changing hearts and minds is just the icing on the Britney cake. “There’s so much room, especially right now, for fun and joy and escapism into a fairy-tale book with Britney Spears’s music,” Steele concludes. “It’s healing. Joy is healing, and our show brings a lot of joy.”

Once Upon a One More Time is now playing at the Marquis Theatre in New York City. Learn more at onemoretimemusical.com.

This article is part of the Out September/October issue, available on newsstands August 29. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.