By Adam Zielonka
The Division of Performing Arts’ best-kept secret is the Schubert Theater, the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts’ secondary stage. It’s smaller in size, but that doesn’t indicate how Schubert’s productions compare to their mainstage companions. Case in point: Once Upon a Mattress, directed by Anne Lewis, might be the most uproarious production Act 1 puts on all season.
In this irreverent send-up of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” Mattress follows the unlikely match of a sheltered prince and an uncivilized swamp princess, which the prince’s overbearing mother is determined to prevent with a ridiculous “sensitivity” test involving 20 mattresses and one pea. The show incorporates the silliness of fairy tales in teaspoons and sexual innuendo in cups.
Catherine Nadeau, Bo Sayre and Joshua Hanrahan form the perfect dysfunctional royal family. The role of the devious, exasperating Queen Aggravain seems perfect for Nadeau, as many roles. (She also rises to the task in the difficult song “Sensitivity,” which employs five beats per measure rather than the typical three or four.) Sayre plays
her husband, the mute, skirt-chasing King Sextimus, whose miming and body language often outshine others’ spoken lines. Hanrahan adopts a lispy baby voice as Prince Dauntless; everything he brings to the character is hilarious, but the culmination of it all is his number with Sextimus, “Man to Man Talk.”
Freshman Renee McFillan plays Princess Winnifred, a raucous role Carol Burnett originated on Broadway. McFillan’s best attribute is her powerful belting.
If you need more proof that Schubert productions are worth seeing, check out the supporting cast, which looks a lot like the cast of April’s production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Jonas Bloomfield, Michael Guerriere and Kyle Schumaker come from that cast to excel as The Minstrel, The Jester and The Wizard, respectively. Guerriere is especially memorable for his solo moment in the dance number “Very Soft Shoes.” The part is fit for no one else at DeSales but him. Multitalented Act 1 veterans Emily Baver and Brendan Doyle lead the ensemble.
Last year’s popular production of The Miser was housed in Schubert, but Mattress is the first musical in the theater since 2013’s revue, Rodgers & Hart – A Celebration. Some violins, one piano and one flute make for a scarce pit orchestra, but they provide as much accompaniment as the intimate theater can support. Its layout as a thrust theater provides seating on three sides of the stage, so audience members are close enough to feel as though they’re in the fantasy land themselves. Junior Paul Curcillo’s set design provides an extra medieval touch but also stays out of the way, with no gaudy add-ons.
Once Upon a Mattress runs through Oct. 25. Tickets are available at the Labuda Center box office.