By Mary Damiano
I had never seen Once Upon a Mattress, the charming musical based on the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. Musicals are not like movies. You can’t get them on demand; you have to wait for someone to actually produce them. So I was thrilled when I saw that Florida Atlantic University was doing Once Upon a Mattress in Boca Raton, finally giving me the chance to see the musical that made Carol Burnett a star.
This production is not traditional. Director Bruce Linser gives it the framework of a troupe of performers presenting the show at a Renaissance festival. Keeping with that concept, Once Upon a Mattress has lively pre-show entertainment, with members of the ensemble stilt-walking, juggling, and interacting with the audience.
What follows is an absolute delight, a confection of a show that walks the balance beam between bawdy and innocent, with hilarious results. The plot goes like this: Queen Aggravain (Maribeth Graham) has declared that no one in the kingdom can marry until her son, Prince Dauntless (Eytan Deray) marries. But she is much too attached to her son and puts each wannabe bride through tests the poor girls cannot possibly pass. Frustrations are running high in the kingdom, especially for lissome Lady Larken (Tara Collandra) who faces scandal in about nine months if she can’t marry handsome Sir Harry (Jordan Armstrong) who, learning of their date with the stork, rides off in search of a princess for the prince. Enter Princess Winnifred (Emily Freeman) a smart and sassy tomboy with all the girlish grace of a gopher. And while Winnifred endears herself to the prince and the rest of the court, the queen is unmoved. Hijinks ensue on the bumpy road to would-be wedlock.
FAU students and a few guest artists make up the cast. Graham is deliciously hissable as Queen Aggravain, while you can’t help but root for her mute, henpecked hubby, King Sextimus, played by Barry Tarallo, who gets to put his pantomime skills to good use. Deray gives Prince Dauntless an effeminate edge that is ripe for laughs. As Winnifred, Freeman displays a goofy charm and a willingness to do anything for a laugh.
Once Upon a Mattress boasts a strong cast that delivers a delightful few hours of theatre.
Once Upon a Mattress runs through July 31 at FAU in Boca Raton. For tickets and more information, call 800-564-9539 or visit fauevents.com.