A Fun but Lumpy Mattress
Once Upon a Mattress
The Coterie Theatre
If you're familiar with the fairytale, "The Princess and the Pea", you assume that you know what to expect with the Coterie's "Once Upon a Mattress" – but this princess comes from a swamp, and much of the show depends on its jokes and physical gags. Having not seen the Broadway-length version of the comic musical, I was looking forward to seeing the new theatre-for-young-audiences production.
Walking into the theatre five minutes before start time was a sight to see. It was a packed house that included seating on the floor. A few of the actors who appear in the opening scene interacted with children who sat on the floor before the performance started. From my previous experience in the children's theatre world, I know that interacting with younger audiences pre-show can either have a positive or negative influence on their behavior. Luckily, these children seemed to be quite enamored with the whole show, and besides some adorable laughter, only responded to the actors when actually called to do so.
The obvious star of the show is none other than Princess Winnifred herself, played by Lauretta Pope. This actor had Carol Burnett's comic timing and a voice that reminded me a little of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli – although a couple of belts in "Shy" were a tad overstretched. I also found myself delighted by the interaction between Will Amato and Julie Shaw. Amato's meek but loveable Prince Dauntless was an amusing contrast to Shaw's mischievous Queen Aggravain. Notable performances also came from Noah Whitmore (Minstrel) and Stefanie Wienecke (Lady Larken), who both shined vocally in "Normandy". A slight wrinkle in the mattress came from Ron McGee (King Sextimus) and Frankie Krainz (Wizard, Nightingale of Samarkand). They both had me at character-driven moments of the show, but when they were silly just to get laughs, my interest waned. Unfortunately, with some solid performances also comes the pea in the mattress. Enjoli Gavin as Princess No. 12 goes so over-the-top with her character's lament at not passing the queen's test, that I had trouble understanding her. This character only has a brief part in the show, but it was sadly memorable. It would surprise me if the weak character choices were guided by director Jeff Church, as he usually manages to create successful ensembles.
With the sea of children, I was impressed to see how the Coterie managed to have set within an already small space. Kudos goes to Kristin Yager for figuring that out. Somewhat cartoon-like, with a hint of Disney-like color, Yager's simple set with castle walls and doors was just enough not to be distracting. I would also like to commend costume designer Georgianna Buchanan for her vividly colorful pieces. I am sure she made all the little girls in the audience want a green sparkly dress, even if it could be from the swamp.
This production of "Once Upon a Mattress" runs until August 5th at the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center. Tickets are $9-$15, and the show is 75 minutes long without intermission. More information can be found at www.coterietheatre.org.