Regal fun: Mattress enchants with laughter
Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” Mary Rodgers (Richard Rodgers’ daughter) and Marshall Barer penned the musical Once Upon a Mattress at a summer writing workshop.
The farce debuted at the Phoenix Theater in New York in 1959 with Carole Burnett in the leading role of a delicate princess who proves her royal birth when she cannot sleep upon a pile of mattresses because a tiny pea has been placed at the bottom of the stack to test her authenticity.
Two made-for-television movies and a Broadway revival in the mid-1990s, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, have followed the original production. Four County Players in Barboursville offers the show as part of their current season.
Set “many moons ago” in a kingdom ruled by a domineering queen and a mute king, the play centers on the quest of their son, Prince Dauntless, to find a bride. The trouble is, no one meets with the queen mother’s approval or can pass the difficult tests she designs for her son’s potential partners.
Furthermore, no one else in the kingdom can marry until Dauntless does, which is a problem for Lady Larken and Sir Harry, who happen to have a baby on the way. To help remedy the situation, Sir Harry sets off one day and returns with Princess Winnifred, of the swampy kingdom of Farfelot.
Winnifred astonishes the court by swimming the moat upon her arrival, instantly captivating Dauntless and convincing the Queen she is not a true princess. To prove it, the queen, with help from her wizard, sets out to come up with a “princess test” Winnifred can never pass.
But everyone else is determined to help Dauntless get his bride. Hilarity and romance abound as Winnifred and Dauntless and Larken and Harry try to find their way to true love.
“This show’s enduring appeal lies in its familiarity, its hilarity, its simplicity, and its melodic romance,” says Kim Dukes, director of publicity for the show, which marks 4CP’s 40th full-length musical production. It’s also a revival of sorts, as it was first performed by 4CP in 1976 with co-founders Lillian Morse and Bill Thomas in two of the lead roles.
The current production features Tricia Belan as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, Gary White as Prince Dauntless, Kristen Franklin as Queen Aggravaine, Jaime Kurtz as Lady Larken, Daniel Hager as Sir Harry, Jason Cooper as the Minstrel, Michael Quadrozzi as the Jester, and Bob Lake as King Sextimus the Silent. A large chorus of ladies and lords and a singing nightingale add to the fun as Winnifred and Dauntless try to overcome the obstacles set in their way.
Director Al Packard, a newcomer to 4CP, has been involved with theater for over 40 years. He performed in professional summer stock theater for 18 seasons in more than 60 different musicals and operettas, taught public school music for 18 years, and has directed many community theater productions, the Brunswick Choral Society, South Hill Community Chorus, and The American Cancer Society Crusade Capers.
“I chose this musical,” Packard says, “because I love it. It’s light, it doesn’t try to be presumptuous, there’s nice music in it, and it’s extremely funny. The roles are great, and it gives us all lots of opportunity to have fun.”
Join the fun by calling for tickets now. 4CP’s musicals sell out quickly.
Once Upon a Mattress runs weekends through March 23 at the Barboursville Community Center, Barboursville. 8pm on Friday and Saturday, 2:30pm on Sunday. $9-14. 832-5355.