Once Upon a Mattress
by Deirdre Donovan
that funny Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress?
Well, the Transport Group Theatre Company is reviving it downtown at the
, and their
new-fangled iteration is even funnier than the original.
need a refresher on the plot, it is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic
fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” Set in medieval times, it’s
about a fictive royal couple King Sextimus the Silent (David Greenspan) and
Queen Aggravain (John “Lypsinka” Epperson), who are hoping to find a real
princess for their son Prince Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams) to
wed. Many wannabe princesses have come to the palace to see if they might
win the Prince in marriage. But, alas, not a one has passed the Queen’s
rigorous pre-nuptial test. Enter Princess Winifred the Woebegone (Jackie
Hoffman), who is a different kind of princess. And, as soon as she
materializes on the scene, all the Knights and Ladies take immediate notice of
the less-than-regal looking young woman—and muse if she might possibly pass the
Queen’s test and become the bride of Prince Dauntless.
let’s cut to the chase: This Mattress doesn’t have the glitz of the
original 1959 Broadway production (with Carol Burnett) or the 1997 Broadway
revival (with Sarah Jessica Parker). But what makes this scruffy new Mattress stack up is its first-rate cast. They collectively pull out the stops
and do wonders in this scaled-down production. So what it lacks in décor
(modest set by Sandra Goldmark) and luxurious costumes (costume design by
Kathryn Rohe), it makes up for in sheer pluck and gutsiness.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
deliciously plays the domineering Queen Aggravain in drag. Greenspan, as
the aptly-named King Sextimus, nails his mute part with zany physical comedy,
chasing the young single women in his kingdom on the sly. Jackie Hoffman
is well-cast—and pitch-perfect--as Princess Winifred, with her musical chops
blazing from her opening number to the finale. Williams, as the
milquetoast Prince Dauntless, inhabits his royal character with just the right
degree of nerdiness. And the good acting and singing doesn’t end with the
principals. No, siree! Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, as the
Minstrel, does his minstreling with a twinkle and much brio. And Cory
Lingner, as the Jester, is jolly good fun to watch and listen to, with a
show-stopping number in Act 2 (more on this, later).
by Jack Cummings III, this Mattress is unlike its Broadway predecessors.
Yes, it still holds intact the plot, along with the curse on King Sextimus
("When the mouse devours the hawk," the King will find his voice) and
the moral (The real princess will trump the Queen’s marriage test and win the
Prince). But Cummings boldly departs from the more conventional
Broadway productions by cross-gendering the Queen Aggravain role. It is a
master stroke by Cummings--and adds a new contemporary stripe to the musical.
And who better than Epperson to pull it off, sending up the Queen par excellence and parodying her oh-so-haughty manner?
Rodgers’ music and Marshall Barer’s lyrics and book (with contributions by Jay
Thompson and Dean Fuller) still hold up surprisingly well. There are 18
musical numbers in all, and though none may ever be included in Broadway’s top
hits, a few, as revived here, do hit the mark. In Act 1, Hoffman belts
out the misleadingly-titled song “Shy” with her own spunky signature.
Joined by the Knights and Ladies, Hoffman proves that it’s not what you
say that counts but how you say it. The other knockout number
comes in Act 2, with Lingner, as Jester, delivering the song “Very Soft Shoes,”
an homage to his father’s dancing days. Although he sings the song at a
velvety-soft volume, it’s deeply affecting and just might have you reaching for
Group Theatre Company has retooled a Broadway musical and whipped it into a
fresh theatrical confection at the
it will satisfy your hunger for shows that end happily-ever-after.
And if you like your theater at the cutting-edge (and with a campy flavor),
this Mattress cuts the mustard and more.
466 Grand Street
For tickets, phone 866-811-4111 or visit www.OvationTix.com
time: 2 hours; 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.