Though many of Hans Christian Andersen’s children’s stories have come alive in movies and plays during the years, none is more charming than his 1835 tale of “The Princess and the Pea.”
“Once Upon a Mattress,” the musical version of the search for a true princess is the current production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. This fairytale set to music, with book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer, who also does lyrics, and music by Mary Rodgers hit Broadway in 1959 and made Carol Burnett a star.
Pumping up this simple tale with modern antics and song, the playwrights created a lonely Prince Dauntless the Drab, who is so tied to his mother, Queen Aggravain, that her apron-strings are not only choking him but are impeding his search for a bride.
Each time Dauntless finds a Princess and presents her to the Queen for approval, the dotting mother devises a test to prove if the applicant is a true princess. Any young lady who passes a part of the test is met with an addendum, which the contestant enviably fails. Like a mythological Hydra, each time the addendum is conquered, two additional take its place. Eventually, Queen Aggravain’s verification resembles an entrance exam to Harvard and Yale along with Rachel Ray’s kitchen quiz followed by a try-out for the Seattle Seahawks!
Poor Dauntless is the product of an overprotective, loving mother and a bewitched father, King Sextimus the Silent, who was left voiceless by the spell of a couple of wandering crones passing through the kingdom who declare he will remain silent until “the mouse devours the hawk.”.
Aggravain is aided in her schemes of keeping her beloved son single by her Wizard. The Minstrel tells the audience the problem of discontent among the kingdom folk, which includes lovers Sir Harry and Lady Larken, is that none may marry until Dauntless walks down the aisle; to compound things, her ladyship is prematurely in the family way.
Along comes Princess Winnifred “Fred” the Woebegone to vie for the Prince’s hand. The added Herculean labor the Queen devises is to see if Winnifred can sleep peacefully on a bed of 19 mattresses placed atop a dried pea. The Minstrel finds out about the treachery and has the help of the King, Sir Harry and the Jester to fill the mattresses with metal weaponry to make it most uncomfortable so Fred will not be able to go to sleep. However, Aggravain discovers the plan and has everything removed except for the pea. Fred arrives in the morning obviously lacking sleep because the pea alone was enough to prove she is a true princess and as meant to be, they live happily ever after.
“Once Upon a Mattress” is directed and choreographed by Jon Douglas Rake with all the flurry the fairytale deserves. His cast is strong and follows his lead to a T.
Jeffrey Stvrtecky is Music Director and leads the TMP Orchestra which consists of Roxane Hreha on flute piccolo; Janessa Stout on clarinet, Diz Carroll on bass clarinet; Mark Willis, horn; Rick Leffler, trumpet I, John Stava, trumpet II, Mick Crosby Trombone; Barb Burzynski percussions and Addison Ki’ai running OrchExtra.
John Chenault does the lighting design. The plethora of color is due to Jocelyne Flower, the excellent costume designer and her able assistants Grace Stone and Margot Webb. Angela Morgan is Stage Manager.
Rake’s ensemble is comprised of Corissa DeVerse, Keoni Dilay, Zach Forbes, Brynne Geiszler, Natasha Jones, Sarahlynn Mangan, Derek Mesford, Corey Thompson, Cameron Waters and Julia Wyman. All these stalwart singers and dancers do their job and hit the mark at every turn fully rounding out the story.
Kat Fresh is brought in by the Queen as the Nightingale of Smarkland to sing Fred to sleep. However, even Fresh’s melodic voice cannot compete with the discomfort of the mattresses.
Josh Wingerter is Sir Harry and Ashley Koon is his lady love Lardy Larken. The eager to marry couple are both in a delicate condition – she more so than he. Their love is obvious when they sing together and even more obvious when they fight with each other; very nice work for both actors.
John Miller is the Wizard. The dastardly magician uses his powers as well as Miller acts his part. Miller is a long-time player at TMP and is appreciated in each role he dons.
Joe Woodland is King Sextimus the Silent. Woodland reveals his unspoken words with eloquent gestures and once the prophecy is fulfilled, the downtrodden king takes over with flourish.
Tony Williams is the Minstrel. This excellent madrigal singer lifts his voice to tell the audience what has happened previous to heir entering the theatre and keep them on the right road to the final curtain. Williams is just right for the role.
Josh Andrman I the Jester who is eager to aid those on the side of the prince to help him with his desire to find a mate. Anderman has a strong voice and uses it well.
Jeremy Lynch is a prize as Prince Dauntless the Drab. Lynch has a fine, beautiful voice which the actor shifts from comical to romantic depending upon the call of the script. His acting prowess is obvious when the prince goes from condescension to conquest over his mother.
Deanna Martinez is Queen Aggravain. Martinez operatic vocal range is excellent. Her acting style is equal to her vocal prowess. Her elegant appearance on stage is the opposite of her dominating persona which makes her character’s fall from power even more effective.
Emma Deloye is Princess Winnifred the Woebegone. Deloye is filled with energy. Her powerful voice belts out the tunes with exuberance and joy. Her red hair bounces to the rhythm of the songs, making the role hers.
“Once Upon a Mattress,” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through December 17, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to tmp.org.
“Once Upon a Mattress,” is a perfect way for the family to enjoy a fun, rollicking time at the theatre – a lot of action with little effort on your part – just a happy experience.