By George Basler
One of the best things about Once Upon a Mattress is that it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than it is. The musical isn’t out to make a big statement or provide a grandiose spectacle. Instead, it seeks to provide a pleasant, upbeat, laugh-filled diversion.
And it does. The show is an example that that even a B-list Broadway musical can provide solid entertainment if done well, which is certainly the case with the production, that opened this past weekend (June 10-12) for a two -weekend run at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott.
Directed by Rob Egan and produced by BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier), the show is blessed with spirited dance numbers and goofy humor that makes it an enjoyable romp for much of its two hours plus running time.
The one caveat is that the musical loses some of its verve in the second act. The problem is not with the Cider Mill production, but with the show’s creators, who tried to squeeze too many plot points into the act with the result that the central story line of the princess loses some of its steam.
The show, which premiered back in 1959, is a take-off on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” It features music by Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard; lyrics by Marshall Barer, and a book by Barer, Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller.
The action centers on a medieval kingdom’s search for a proper princess bride for the mousy Prince Dauntless. Everyone in the kingdom wants this to happen except for his controlling, battle-axe of a mother, Queen Aggravain, who never wants Dauntless to leave her side and sabotages every effort to find him a mate.
Enter Winnifred the Woebegone who shows up at the castle to try to win the prince’s hand and gives the queen a real run for her money.
The main pleasure of the show is how the creators turn the elements of the classic fairy tale on their heads. Dauntless is no Prince Charming, and Winnifred is no hapless damsel. She’s a brash, go-getter who thinks nothing about swimming the castle’s moat to introduce herself to the ladies and knights of the court.
The character is a wonderful comic creation, and Marjorie Loughran is an absolute delightful in the role. She has a good Broadway-style singing voice and belts out Winnifred’s songs with great gusto. She also has fine touch with physical humor and comic facial expressions. Most importantly, she never resorts to mugging.
Loughran’s skill with physical comedy is clearly on display in “Song of Love.” The song closes Act I and requires her to run from one side of the stage to the other while singing, dancing, lifting a weight and taking copious drinks of an alcoholic concoction.
The number, choreographed by Katie Barlow, is a rousting spectacle. So is “Spanish Panic,” the dance that proceeds it in Act I in which the entire ensemble gets to show off its skills in a dance that’s a goofy mash up of Charleston, disco and Broadway. It’s great fun.
Once Upon a Mattress is a mixed bag. Much of the writing has a good satirical sharpness. But the second act drag a bit as the creators pad the action with side stories. The finale when Winnifred climbs to the top of 20 mattresses to pass the queen’s test falls a bit flat because there is no real build-up. The ending seems rushed.
Still, the Cider Mill production is breezy, affable, and enjoyable fun for much of the time.
The supporting cast is uniformly good. Kate Murray gives a standout performance as the overbearing Queen Aggravain. The role is a broadly comic one, and Murray plays it to the hilt. What a treat!
John Montgomery also does a fine job as the queen’s henpecked husband, King Sextimus. The role requires Montgomery to skillfully pantomime gestures because the king has been rendered mute by a queen’s curse. He is joined by Jarod Hinton, as the minstrel, and Patrick Summers, as the jester, for some clever slapstick antics in Act II.
Isaac Weber plays Prince Dauntless with a hang-dog expression and manner that draws laughs.
Finally, Katelyn Rundell and Ian Harrison Cook are suitably charming as the show’s two young lovers, Lady Larken and Sir Harry. Rundell brings a sweet singing voice and sense of spunkiness to her ingenue role while Harrison Cook humorously parodies masculine machismo. Their big number in the first act, “In a Little While,” is a sweet ballad that is well performed and one of the show’s highlights.
The Cider Mill production doesn’t ask audience members to think much, but that can be a relief. Like an ice cream sundae on a summer’s day, the show is tasty and goes down easy.
IF YOU GO: The Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott, will present Once Upon a Mattress this weekend (June 17-19) with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25. To order tickets, go to www.cidermillstage.com, click on “upcoming shows” and then click on “buy your tickets here.”
Mask wearing is optional in the theater.