Theater Review: Rockville Musical Theater’s “Once Upon A Mattress” at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater


Distribution of “Once Upon a Mattress”. Photo by Bruce Rosenberg.

The Rockville Musical Theater (RMT) wrapped up the hit classic Broadway musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” based on the story of the Princess and the Pea, last weekend. The production opens as the minstrel (Ray Essick) describes the popular version of events while the featured dancers (Hannah Briceño, Daniel Carter and Isabelle Olivos-Glander) used graceful, flowing movements to interpret it. Le Ménestrel is quick to point out the many flaws in this simplified version for the general public. He saw the story unfold and it was much less graceful.

The year is 1428. Every young girl in the land is eagerly waiting to see if Prince Dauntless (Jarod Glou) will finally marry. Every princess who wishes to marry Dauntless must pass a kingship test, and no one else can marry until they do. Unfortunately for every hopeful couple in the kingdom, no one has died yet. Queen Aggravain (Jenny Gleason), a typical overbearing mother who is too attached to her son, will not let her perfect son marry anyone. When princess number twelve is denied, the citizens of the kingdom desperately search for a princess to take the test. None more than Lady Larken (Leslie Lewis) and Sir Harry (Scott Napier) discovering they have a baby on the way as they sing “In a little while.” Larken’s gentle yet naive demeanor contrasts nicely with Harry’s spunky and sporty demeanor. Sir Harry goes in search of a princess who has yet to be tested. Enter Princess Winnifred (Dana Robinson) or, as her friends call her, Fred. Winnifred is a loud, confident, stand-out girl. Robinson delivers a full, energetic and over-the-top performance throughout the show. In “Shy,” Winnifred considers herself a shy person who courtiers are quick to doubt.

…comforting production…

Queen Aggravaine plans her new test with her advisor the wizard (David Gannon). They decide it will be about “Sensitivity” –like a real princess should be sensitive enough to smell a pea under twenty fluffy mattresses. The Queen throws a ball to make sure Winnifred fails the test and gets everyone dancing the “Spanish Panic » until they fall. Meanwhile, King Sextimus (Bob Bryant), the minstrel and the jester (Colleen Prior) hatch a plan to find out what the queen has planned. The ball ends with Dauntless confessing his love to Winnifred with in “Love song.” Throughout her confession, the princess performs various feats of strength and singing while drinking wine. In case that isn’t enough to bring Winnifred down, the queen gives her milk mixed with opium and relaxing incense to lull Winnifred to sleep. The kingdom awaits and of course there’s a happily ever after ending, thanks to the minstrel and jester who had stuffed various helmets, swords and batons under his mattress.

This production had an outstanding live orchestra that drew the audience into the story. Led by conductor Sam Weich, it featured Audrey Chang and Rachael Daudelin on violin; Stuart Weich on piano; Jeremy Keaton on cello; Lesley Cooper on flute; Tony Aragon on bass; James Berman and Michael Loebach on trumpet; Rose Weich on clarinet; Melissa Bayliss and Joshua Fleming on trombone; and George Huttlin on percussion.

Costume designer Ginger Ager dressed the actors in traditional Renaissance clothing. Knights wore simple trousers with matching red tunics and ladies wore long dresses with long sleeves. The queen had a “queen of hearts” look with her large black wig and an imposing Medici collar behind her head. Winnifred couldn’t stand out more in her simple pink dress and bare feet when she first arrives at court.

The scenes are enhanced by lighting, designed by Kali Munrovia, which includes fairy gobos and seaweed gobos that create fantastical and romantic atmospheres. The set designed by Maggie Modig consisted of an elevated main stage where the thrones sit in front of the castle walls. The rest of the sets were performed by the actors. For the corridors, there were three marble pillars. Winnifred’s room was by far the most impressive. Her bedroom sports a deep cerulean blue with gold accents, a wooden desk, and at the end of the show, a looming pile of mattresses for the heroine to climb over.

RMT’s “Once Upon A Mattress” was directed by Lee Michele Rosenthal and had the audience laughing with the story. The cast and crew, all volunteers who worked to produce this heartwarming production, were honored with raucous applause.

Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes and includes a 15 minute intermission.

“Once Upon A Mattress” ran July 8-17, 2022, presented by the Rockville Musical Theater at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, 603 Edmonston Drive Rockville, MD, 20851. For more information on upcoming productions of RMT, click here. For more information on upcoming events at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, click here. Note: Guests are required to present proof of vaccination at the door or a negative COVID test within 72 hours prior to the start of the show. Guests are strongly suggested to wear masks inside the theater.

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