Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cabrillo Music Theatre Recounts the Tale of Once Upon A Mattress

Bets Malone as Winnifred and Knights. Photos by Ed Krieger

Once Upon A Mattress – the ‘real’ story of the Princess and the Pea, by Mary Rodgers (music), Marshall Barer (lyrics) and featuring book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer.

Once upon a time there was a 36-year old prince, Dauntless the Drab, whose mother, Queen Aggravain, did everything in her power to ensure that no princess in the land would be deemed worthy of marrying him. She devised impossible riddles and ridiculous tests that successfully eliminated all potential candidates until a thoroughly unconventional young lady named Princess Winnifred of Woebegone arrived. So excited she couldn’t wait for a royal escort, Winnifred, or 'Fred' as she’s nicknamed, swims the moat, scales the castle wall, winds her way through the onstage orchestra, and drops into the middle of the flabbergasted crowd grinning like a tomboy, ready to claim her prince.

It’s one of the best entrances in musical comedy and Bets Malone does it with such unabashed style that the entire crowd instantly falls in love with her, dripping wet, muddy gown and all…everyone that is except the Queen (Tracy Lore) who vows to eliminate her as she did all the others. Discounting Winnifred’s official Princess papers, she decides to secretly place a pea underneath twenty mattresses to test her when she sleeps. If Fred can feel it she will be declared of true royal blood and able to marry the prince. If not, she’s out.

Bets Malone and Scott Reardon

The fun that follows includes the queen’s attempts to tire her out during “The Spanish Panic,” an exhaustingly fast-paced silly dance that succeeds in knocking everyone out except Winnifred. It also features a darling Prince Dauntless (Scott Reardon) and Malone in a number that shows off her expertise with physical comedy, “Song of Love,” practicing everything she can think of that might prepare her for the as yet unnamed test.

Carol Burnett originated the role of Winnifred, followed in later versions by Dody Goodman, Imogene Coca, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tracey Ullman. As wonderful as they might have been, what is so captivating about Malone is that she brings a natural honesty and very unique quirky charm to the character that will make it hard for you to picture anyone else as Fred. It’s a role she owns through and through. More than a few times she caught me off guard and had me laughing out loud at the intricacies of her performance. One must credit director Richard Israel for always bringing out the best in his actors and finding ways to give even these broadly drawn characters real heart. The result is a Once Upon A Mattress that ends up being more than just a fluffy fairy tale.

Tracey Lore, Scott Reardon, Bets Malone and Danny Gurwin

Lore is delicious as the arrogant, overbearing Queen. When the wall of famous portraits that have been refitted with her image – Whistler’s Mother, the Mona Lisa, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, American Gothic, and more – flies in behind her scenes with the Wizard (David Gilchrist) you get the full comedic effect of her self-importance. It is a fantastic element of the storybook scenic design by Jean-Yves Tessier, as are Christine Gibson’s brightly colored regal costumes. I guarantee you’ll be plotting how you can get a hold of Aggravain’s red hat. It’s a whole character of its own.

The story is narrated with a wink and a gorgeous set of pipes by Minstrel Danny Gurwin, and features a lecherous mute king (David Newcomer), a secretly pregnant Lady Larkin (Noelle Marion), and a handsome baritone Sir Harry (Isaac James).

The Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra led by musical director Daniel Thomas is another highlight and always one of the best features of the productions here in Thousand Oaks. Only a handful of theaters in the area are able to present their musicals with 17 musicians including strings and horns. You’d do well to take this opportunity to enjoy it with the full, lovely sound the writers intended.

Cabrillo's Once Upon A Mattress is an agreeably merry musical full of whimsy and humor, with a large and appealing cast and a leading lady you’re sure to love. Plus it's appropriate for the whole family. Go have some fun!

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