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March 19, 2013 > Theatre Review: 'Mattress' delivers soft landing

Theatre Review: 'Mattress' delivers soft landing

By Julie Grabowski

Stage 1 Theatre brings a spark of fairy tale fun to Newark with "Once Upon A Mattress," a musical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale of "The Princess and the Pea."

Young Prince Dauntless is in need of a wife, but his mother Queen Aggravain insists on putting each girl to the Royalty Test to find out if she's a true princess and worthy of the position. Though the overbearing Queen claims she wants her son to wed as badly as he wishes, somehow a suitable girl is never found. Twelve princesses have tried and failed the test; the whole household despairs, for until the prince is married, no one else may marry.

Eager to secure a wedding date when he learns that his love, Lady Larken, is expecting a child, Sir Harry leaves the kingdom in search of a princess and returns with a boisterous, vigorous girl from the swamps. While certainly not the princess anyone expects, Winnifred (Fred to her friends) captures the heart of Prince Dauntless. And while Queen Aggravain and the Wizard devise a test that Winnifred will be sure to fail, with a little help, she just might prove that number 13 isn't so unlucky after all.

Lively, fun, silly, and light, "Once Upon A Mattress" is sheer escapism and entertainment. Director Barbara Williams and the rest of the production team do a fine job of creating a fairy tale world with great costumes and set designs, and get the most out of the unique and likable characters. Despite the fun, the first act is a little on the long side, and though this version is proudly presented as the original script without editing the story underwent for various TV versions, it would benefit from a little trimming. The second act moves much better, but even it could be relieved of the Jester's "Very Soft Shoes" number, as it is a superfluous piece that ultimately doesn't serve the story. (This in no way reflects on the entertaining Dane K. Lentz as the Jester who is fun and delightful throughout.)

Supported by a live, 25-piece orchestra, conducted by Ken Nadler, the vocals are remarkably strong, with Barry Bailey (Minstrel), Christi Marie Wallace (Princess Winnifred), and Sven Shutz (Sir Harry) leading the way. Wallace's enthusiasm knows no bounds and she takes ownership of her character with a lot of energy and zest, and can really belt it out as displayed in the fun number "Shy." Stage 1 first timer Shutz makes a strong and memorable mark as Sir Harry, perfectly embodying a knight of the fairy-tale realm with spot on accent and bearing. The only thing lacking is more opportunities to showcase his wonderful voice. Hopefully we will be seeing the talented Shutz in many future productions.

While an able Jami Wallace as Queen Aggravain rules the roost, mute, woman-chasing King Sextimus trumps her. Ray D'Ambrosio is a standout in this role, perhaps the best character in the show. Not held back in the least by the curse upon him ("King Sextimus will never talk until the mouse devours the hawk"), D'Ambrosio's King speaks volumes with hilarious body language and facial expressions. Never has an old man in tights been more appealing! Their son Prince Dauntless is very much like a whiny little boy begging for a toy as he pleads for a wife and is extremely childlike throughout, but Brandon Fouch is funny, sweet, and endearing, and handles the task with tender grace and skill.

"Once Upon A Mattress" is an enjoyable romp with plenty of laughs and entertaining characters, sure to lighten your mood and leave you with a smile.

Shows begin at 8 p.m. with two Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. The Sunday, March 24 performance will be ASL interpreted. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 advanced admission, $18 seniors (62 and over), $10 students (17 and under), and $18 for groups of 12 or more. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (510) 791-0287 or visit

Once Upon A Mattress
March 15 - 30
8 p.m. (Sundays: 2:30 p.m.)
Stage 1 Theatre
Newark Memorial High School
39375 Cedar Blvd., Newark
(510) 791-0287
Tickets: $10 - $22

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