Dennis Giacino was a history teacher and he noticed a disconnect between what he was teaching his students and what Disney was teaching them.
"At one point I was teaching the story of Pocahontas," he said. "And then the movie came out and I thought, 'That's not the Pocahontas I know.' "
He wrote a song poking fun about the Disney version. The song had the "real" Pocahontas complaining about how the animated version of her story misrepresented her.
That was the genesis of "Disenchanted," a musical comedy written and directed by Giacino that has caused a mini-sensation in the theater world.
It will be at the Jaeb Theatre, one of the smaller venues at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, for an extended run starting this weekend.
"I started wondering if there were other princesses who had been misrepresented in popular culture, not just by Disney, " Giacino said. "So many of them are not portrayed as they were in real life, or as they were originally written. That's how 'Disenchanted' came about."
He uses the term "princesses" loosely, not literally, and include such figures as Pocahontas, the Little Mermaid and Belle from "Beauty and the Beast." Whether they actually lived or were born in fairy tales, he said, their original stories are often dark and brutal, not glossy and ethereal.
In "Disenchanted," those women get together to sing songs about who they really are.
There's a message of female empowerment that underlies "Disenchanted," Giacino said, because these characters want to be seen as real people, even as the heroes they were, and not as passive women who are rescued by princes. But it's a comedy, not a polemic.
The show grew gradually over three years and productions in Vancouver, Portland, Oregon and New York City. It evolved into something like its current form at a wildly popular production at the Orlando Fringe Festival in 2011 and a later run in an Orlando theater. It also enjoyed a long run at the former Golden Apple Dinner Theater in Sarasota in 2012. It's still being tweaked, so the show Tampa audiences see will be one that no one else has seen.
"Every time we've done this how, there has been significant adjustment," said Lulu Picart, who plays Princess Jasmine and Hua Mulan. Picart lives in Orlando but performs often in the Tampa Bay area. This will be her fourth time performing in "Disenchanted."
"In Orlando, people are really invested in this show, which is great," she said. "Every time there's a change, people say 'Why did you take that out? I loved that!" or 'I love the way you changed that line in that song.'"
Picart said she understands how audiences can enjoy "Disenchanted" through repeated viewings.
"This cast is so wonderful," she said. "I'm having the best time. I laugh every night. I laugh at jokes I've been hearing for three years."
Details: Jan. 30-April 13, Jaeb Theatre at Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $40 plus service charge and up. Information: 813-229-7827, www.strazcenter.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.