Light musical comedy delivers the laughs

March 1991

It's probably the most oft-repeated mother-in-law cliché of all time.

And a good premise for the Orpheus Operatic Society's musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress - the story of an overbearing queen who won't let her little prince get married until she locates a bona fide princess to meet her standards.

If that sounds a little like Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, that's because the two stories have the same starting point. But that's about all, as the minstrel tells the audience at the play's opening.

The queen's cosseted and petulant son, Dauntless the Drab, wants a wife. But that wife first has to pass all the tests devised by Queen Aggravain's cunning mind.

"Blood will tell and yours hasn't told us quite enough," she tells the last luckless princess to try her test as the theme music from Jeopardy tinkles away in the background.

To add to the dilemma, no one else at court can marry until Dauntless' marriage is approved, and Sir Harry's love, Lady Larken, is expecting a baby, so Sir Harry goes out to scour the world to find a real princess.

His discovery is Winnifred the Woebegone, an appropriately pedigreed damsel from a nearby swamp kingdom who swims the moat and quickly runs afoul of the queen.

The role of Winnifred was first played by Carol Burnett when the play opened off Broadway in 1959, and Barbara Seabright-Moore takes to the stage with the same kind of joyous, bug-eyed Burnettesque abandon. Seabright-Moore can be trilling away one minute and fog-horning the next as the world's most unpolished princess.

Robin Bowditch makes his debut with Orpheus as King Sextimus, and puts his skills as a rather acrobatic pantomime to good use as the womanizing, browbeaten sovereign who been [sic] cursed to losing his voice.

Orpheus veteran Sheila Shields plays the role of the domineering Queen Aggravain with wonderfully wicked frostiness. "He may be a mean, thoughtless little man, but he's your father, and I want you to respect him," she tells Prince Dauntless after a martyred diatribe.

Once Upon a Mattress is light-hearted, and light, musical comedy. It won't challenge you to change the world, but it will make you laugh. And there's lots of room for that.