Theater Review: Once Upon a Mattress by the City Players of Largo

The plot is simple.  In an attempt to keep her son, Prince Dauntless, single, Queen Aggravain has decreed that only a princess who can pass her test may marry her son. Further, no one else in the kingdom may marry until Prince Dauntless does. Lady Larken and Sir Harry are extremely disturbed by this fact since Lady Larken is now pregnant with Sir Harry's baby. Luckily, Sir Harry is able to find a suitable princess, Winnifred the Woebegone. She instantly captures the affection of Prince Dauntless, and the queen concocts what she believes to be a foolproof test. If Winnifred is a true princess, she will be so sensitive that she will not be able to sleep when a pea is placed beneath 20 mattresses on which she must sleep.

Alexandra Gondalez is compelling as the bumbling but powerful Princess Winnifred, who makes a soggy entrance after having "swum the moat," then immediately launches into the best-known song of the play, "Shy." Gonzalez has the voice and personality to carry it off and is energetic throughout (particularly in the dance number "Spanish Panic"); she's truly likable in the role.  Justin Havard is cute and charming as Prince Dauntless, and a good match for the more forceful Winnifred.

Kurt Gawlik as King Sextimus the Silent is one of the comic highlights. His talents are showcased in "Man to Man Talk," in which he pantomimes the facts of life to his soon-to-be-married son.  Kate Gaudet has a commanding presence as evil Queen Aggravain and is particularly strong in the song, "Sensitivity." Tiffany Roberts, in the part of Lady Larken, has an exceptional voice; one of her best acting moments occurs when Lady Larken is discovered masquerading as a man in order to run away from the castle.

The live orchestra is stellar.  The musical director is listed as Betty Jane Pucci, but during the run of the show Bill Kusick expertly directs the orchestra and plays the piano.  It's a treat to have a full orchestra for a community theater show, especially musicians as skilled and talented as these.

Claud Smith, III should be commended for directing the 50-plus people in the cast so that they don't create a a mob scene on stage.  Granted, Ruth Eckerd Hall has a good-sized stage, but his blocking and choreography make the best use of the sizable cast.  Marilyn Deighton's realistic-looking period costumes look striking against Smith's mostly black and white set design.  Queen Aggravain's costumes and surrealistic headpieces looked like works of art and set off the character well.

The play is fun, the cast is enthusiastic, and there is some real talent here.  The City Players do a nice job of pumping some life into this classic play.

In 1959, Carol Burnett made her Broadway debut as Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, a musical based on the classic fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea"; she went on to become an entertainment legend.  A tough act to follow, you might say, but the City Players of Largo hold their own in enthusiasm and talent.

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