Once Upon A Mattress
MIT’s Regal ProductionBy Amy L. Meadows
Presented by MIT Musical Theatre Guild
Music by Mary Rodgers
Lyrics by Marshall Barer
Produced by John van der Meer ’72
Directed by Tom Garvey ’82
Music Directed by David Zych ’00
La Sala de Puerto Rico February 7, 8, and 9, at 8 p.m.
When I was a little girl and my mother read me the fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea, I never imagined it could be like Once Upon A Mattress. With a princess who calls herself “Fred,” a power-hungry queen, and a whiny, bratty Prince, the humorous play left me wondering what I ever found charming in those classical fairy tales.
Prince Dauntless the Drab (Jesse Cox ’03) wants desperately to marry. Unfortunately, his controlling mother, Queen Aggravain (Tanis O’ Connor ’02), has sent home the last twelve hopefuls with a chicken as a consolation prize. Enter Winnifred the Woebegone (Cinda Lavely), the outspoken contender who immediately captures Dauntless’ love and Aggravain’s hate. A passel of other courtly characters strike further blows to the classical concept of refined behavior: the devious old wizard (Daniel J. Katz ’03), the pregnant lady-in-waiting (Caitlin Q. Marlow ’03), and the easy-going jester (Charles R. Floyd ’03) and minstrel (Rogue Shindler).
Many aspects of the production are richly detailed and appropriately geared so that together they reach synergy. Melissa Breglio, the set designer, provided a magnificent backdrop for the action. The first thing the audience saw upon entering the theatre was a giant Snow White-style storybook. Once the play began, the storybook split in two, one half going to each side behind the castle. With purple trimmings and lights, the white castle stretched from floor to ceiling in La Sala.
In addition to the set design, the costumes were creative and appropriate for the play. Everything from the courtiers’ gowns to the jester’s outfit was striking and unique. The knights’ outfits even doubled -- thanks to the wonders of Velcro -- as cheerleading costumes for Princess Winnifred. The dress worn by Lady Larken (Marlow) did, however, look suspiciously like the one on the “MIT Arts” posters up around campus.
The orchestra and choreography provided further support to the production. The orchestra’s delightfully regal horn section (including Catherine E. Howell ’03, Matthew A. Lehman ’85, William J. Andrews ’04, Bob Piankian ’72, and Esther Horwich ’77) not only accented the production but set the tone for many of the scenes. The choreography made smooth, natural transitions from the action, especially in “Very Soft Shoes” and “Shy.” Once the choreography got into full swing with “Spanish Panic” and “F-R-E-D, Fred!” it provided a means to get to know the leading lady, Princess Winnifred, better.
As played by a vivacious Cinda Lavely, Princess Winifred is the opposite of most of the conceptions of the storybook princess; she swims moats, she is loud, and she is brave. Lavely’s gestures and voice filled the stage throughout. Her sarcastic tone fit lines like, “All right sheep, I’m ready when you are,” when she could not sleep or the comment that Cinderella had help from “that crazy lady with the wand.” Lavely’s was a sparkling performance that brought Once Upon A Mattress to the next level.
Jesse W. Cox ’03 played Prince Dauntless, a spineless mama’s boy for much of the play. Cox throws some great temper tantrums during the first act. However, as his feelings for “Fred” blossom, he grows more and more independent and silences his mother’s criticisms in the end; Cox restrains his emotions until then, releasing them in a torrent of anger and rage.
The supporting actors also gave consistently strong performances in their own roles. David Brackman ’83, as King Sextimus the Silent, pantomimed his way through the two acts, mainly chasing Lady Mabelle (Marissa Jacovich ’05) through the castle in many of the scenes. Even the interpretations of his gestures by the other characters provided comic relief. Queen Aggravain (Tanis A. O’Connor ’03) played the scheming, devilish mother of Dauntless, determined to see him not get married. O’Connor’s obnoxious queen and her broken spirit at the end were right on target.
MTG’s Once Upon A Mattress dazzled with humor and innovation at every turn and effective set, orchestra, choreography, and costumes. Unique characters and their actors made the play entertaining, while the performance of Cinda Lavely was that of a true virtuoso amid a great production.