WAUKESHA - Some fairy tales take on a new life. Perhaps Carol Burnett’s successful run of the original story “Princess and the Pea,” translated into the musical “Once Upon a Mattress,” might have had something to do with its longevity and continued popularity.
Carroll University and Theater Red collaborated on this production, featuring students and other local actors. Several of the characters are especially well-rendered.
First off, Hannah Esch is perfect as Queen Aggravain. She is nasty and overbearing and fun to loathe, a sentiment everyone shares. Her voice and mien are standouts and her outfits are stunning.
The atypical princess, played by Marcee Doherty-Elst, fits the bill perfectly. She refuses to echo the stereotype as the docile, kowtowing daughter-in-law. Clumsy, brash and gritty, her entrance after swimming the moat is memorable. Her demeanor eventually convinces Prince Dauntless to take on Mommy and become a man. Tim Albrechtson is almost too childlike in his interpretation of the role as the obsequious, gutless son.
Joe Picchetti as the Wizard aces his performance in his solo “Nightingale Lullaby” and Matt Specht also came alive in his performance of “Very Soft Shoes.” But the actor with the strongest vocals is Eric Welch as Harry. His co-star Bryanna VanCaster as Lady Larkin faced a challenge matching his musical ability, but her spunk compensated. Eric also directed the show.
Other minor roles included King Sextimus, well-played by Robby McGhee, who excelled in body language since that’s all he had, and Laura Gray in her diverse roles as Princess #12 and the scullery maid. Gray has a comic flair to be sure.
Choreography by Ceci Scalish was well-coordinated and the ensemble numbers, harmonious. Sometimes the accompaniment by Julie Johnson was a bit overpowering, though.
Of course the best scene was the climactic sensitivity test. Scenic designer Justin Gale did a good job in creating the royal palace with the focus on the many-layered, colorful bed. The coterie of many mournful ladies-in-waiting and their counterparts did a good job in assuring Princess Winnifred’s success.
Everything ends happily, except for Queen Aggravain, but no one but she herself minded that. How she will ever adjust to a husband and a son who can speak up for themselves is her next challenge. Maybe she’ll jump into the moat.
Costumes by Cecelia Mason-Kuenn are colorful and fitting for the time frame, nicely contrasted with the anachronism of the boom box in the Spanish Panic scene.
The old fairy tale still has legs, and this cast assuredly found them. Long live princesses who don’t fit the mold and princes who finally have the guts to stand up to their overbearing mothers.
Overall, an enjoyable musical diversion in the lovely Otteson Theater.
“Once Upon a Mattress”
The play runs through Saturday, with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday and two performances on Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., at Carroll University ’s Otteson Theatre, 238 N. East Ave. , Waukesha. Tickets may be purchased at the door.