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Once Upon a Mattress

  • Theater, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Once Upon a Mattress: Theater review by David Cote

Any actor who assays Princess Winnifred, plucky hero of the 1959 classic Once Upon a Mattress, must balance two sides of the character’s personality. Half of her is soft and feminine, and the other half is, well, Fred. In this daffy musical comedy based on the fairytale “The Princess and the Pea,” the swampland tomboy is braver and tougher than most men in the kingdom. Now Transport Group presents a sweet and cheeky revival starring a diva equal parts frill and brass: the indefatigable Jackie Hoffman. True, Hoffman might have more brass than a military marching band, but she’s got a cute-and-cuddly side, too.

The chief pleasure of this small-budget but zestfully acted production is to see a ham like Hoffman wax girlish, as well as deliver the slapstick—vocal and physical—the role requires. Does Hoffman belt out the introductory song “Shy” with the requisite unself-conscious brio? Of course. Does she make finding a comfy spot in bed hilarious? Sure, and with ad-libs, no less. She takes her place in a distinguished line of comedians—Carol Burnett, Imogene Coca and Tracey Ullman—who have put their fiercely adorable stamp on the role.

Director Jack Cummings III assembles a power cast around Hoffman, chiefly John “Lypsinka” Epperson’s Queen Aggravain, a towering inferno of camp in an increasingly outrageous series of dresses. Bossy Aggravain runs roughshod over her husband, Sextimus (David Greenspan, understatedly charming), who is mute, and her son Prince Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams), who is feckless and rather dim. When Winnifred tries to compete for Dauntless’s hand in marriage, Aggravain devises an impossible test: She plants a pea under 20 downy mattresses, and will declaim Winnifred’s royal status if she fails to detect the intruding legume. Zak Resnick and Jessica Fontana make a pretty (and prettily singing) couple as a young lord and lady whose nuptials are forestalled by Winnifred’s trial.

Mary Rodgers’s larky, richly orchestrated score, Marshall Barer’s well-turned lyrics and an affably goofy book (you can forgive its second-act trouble): no wonder the piece has become a staple of community theaters and TV specials since the 1960s. Cummings’s staging is appealing and bright, augmented by video backdrops of illustrator Ken Fallin’s castle interiors. If you’re priced out of Broadway’s biggest attractions and welcome a night of old-fashioned fun served up with style, Mattress has plenty of bounce.—David Cote

Abrons Arts Center (Off Broadway). Music by Mary Rodgers. Lyrics by Marshall Barer. Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Barer. Directed by Jack Cummings III. With Jackie Hoffman, John “Lypsinka” Epperson, David Greenspan, Zak Resnick, Jason SweetTooth Williams, Jessica Fontana. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.

Written by
David Cote


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