By John Lyle Belden
CrazyLake Acting Company brings fun and fairy tale romance to the stage with “Once Upon a Mattress,” the comedy musical by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer based on the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Princess and the Pea” (the 1959 Broadway production was notable for making Carol Burnett a star).
A Minstrel (Matt Little) gives us the popular version of the tale – acted out by Ellie Stearns, Charles Wallace, and Aria Studabaker – then proceeds to introduce how it “really” happened.
Queen Aggravain (Noelle Russell) is solidly in control of the kingdom, with husband King Sextimus (Trever Brown) mute from a curse. It is decreed that no one may marry until her son Prince Dauntless (Chris O’Connor) takes a bride – who must be a genuine Princess. The Queen is sole arbiter of what “genuine” means, and with a willing accomplice Wizard (Coy Hutcherson) comes up with tests that somehow every visiting Princess fails. Lady Larken (Alex Gawrys-Strand), the senior Lady-in-Waiting, finds she really can’t wait to wed Sir Harry (Cael Savidge), so the noble knight sets forth to find a suitable Princess. The Queen sends him to the Swamplands, as surely no nobility lives there. Yet he returns with a pretty girl, bearing a crown and a pedigree – who stuns the court by swimming the moat to reach the castle.
Dauntless is in love, Aggravain is appalled, and damp dame Princess Winnifred (Katie Brown) is ready for whatever test Her Majesty comes up with. After such a crude introduction, this new contestant would surely fail a “sensitivity” test – time to order 20 mattresses.
Aside from a full cast of Knights and Ladies, we also have the antics of the Jester (Alec Cole) who is joined by the King and the Minstrel for some subversive comic relief.
Directed by Christine Schaefer and Amy Studabaker, the show features a lot of hilarity and entertaining song-and-dance, including the popular songs, “Shy!” and “Happily Ever After.” Russell is deliciously dastardly as our wicked Queen, while Trever Brown exhibits great miming and physical comedy as the randy King. O’Connor plays Dauntless a little naive and a touch spoiled, but still likable – downright adorable as the kid aching for his first kiss. Savidge manages a cool Lancelot-light portrayal, while Gawrys-Strand keeps Larken on an emotional edge without going overboard. Hutcherson makes a dandy toady. Little and Cole ably play their supporting parts, especially the latter in a nice dance number with the Jester’s father, Sliding Peter Jingle, smoothly danced by Dana Hart.
Appropriately, Katie Brown is the real deal: brilliant in acting, singing, dancing, and comic timing. (Her first scene coming on like a sort of Medieval redneck had me thinking she’d be perfect in “Annie Get Your Gun.”) Her Princess “Fred” is the kind of royalty nearly anyone could fall in love with.
A wonderful diversion from the outside heat and hassles, “Once Upon a Mattress” opens Friday and runs through July 17 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), Greenfield. Discount tickets are available at Hometown Comics (1040 N. State St.); for information see CrazyLakeActing.com.