UTC’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ makes for a lighthearted fairy tale with great execution

November 17, 2017

The Undergraduate Theater Collective’s (UTC) new production of “Once Upon a Mattress” is a fun, heartwarming tale of love lifted into sentimentality by boisterous musical numbers and conscious comedy.

“Once Upon” is an adaptation of the classic fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” following a dainty princess’ trials to prove herself a suitable match for the charming prince. “Once Upon” features a prince more clumsy than charming, matched with a princess more strong than dainty, and a tone more comedic than serious, which the UTC uses to create a fun night of affection.

The comedy comes from Disney-like cartoonish characters who consistently take themselves just a bit too seriously or go just a bit too far and end up in the middle of a joke. The cast, directed by Sarah Salinger-Mullen ’19, creates these characters with wonderfully self-aware performances that wink at the audience to add to the comedy. This self-awareness does not, however, detract from the show’s True Love which is consistently adorable.

Rachel Greene ’20 as the central Princess Winifred and Zack Garrity ’20 as her Prince Dauntless lead the show, with such a comically adorable dynamic. The two actors were strong on their own, though their interactions rarely show their supposed deep love. Garrity shows off the aptly-named Dauntless’ nebbish nature with an amusing clumsiness and just a hint of a shy stammer. This is contrasted against Greene’s loud and confident performance of a woman equally unafraid to swim a moat as confront a queen so uptight she forces her son’s suitors to sleep on peas.

Assisting in this resistance are the mute King, played by Eli Esrig ’19, and his companions the jester and the minstrel, played by Alina Sipp-Albers ’21 and Kaitlin Cavallo ’21 respectively. Together, the trio perform pantomime routines which gives the show its most purely funny moments. Cavalla also fully portrays her characters’ singing abilities, giving the show an incredible beginning with a touching rendition of “Many Moons Ago.”

On the other side are the talkative Queen, played by Lily Bickerstaff-Richard ’20, and her egotistical Wizard, played by Nyomi White ’20. Bickerstaff-Richard toes the line between sinister and misguided, between sinister and impotent, to create a striking aggravating character easy to laugh at. Similarly, White exaggerates the Wizard’s need for approval to create a stand-out performance in the great and hilarious tradition of dimwitted sidekicks.

Caught in the middle are the young lovers Sir Harry, played by Nathan Schneider ’18, and Lady Larkin, played by Jaqie Wycoff ’21. Schneider and Wycoff have a relationship even more touching than the main couple’s. Their love song “Yesterday I Loved You” is one of the highlights of the show, created by singing both technically impressive and deeply emotional.

Also caught in the middle of the conflict are an ensemble of various lords, ladies and servants who keep up a playful and lively life despite having to take directions from the nearest royal. Fiona Grand ’21, Adina Jacobson ’20 and Lexie Vogel ’21 form a trio of amusingly proud and efficient ladies-in-waiting. They are juxtaposed with Sophie Einis’ ’19 portrayal of the giggly French romantic Lady Mabelle and the sarcastic ladies Luce and Beatrice played by Rachel Lese ’21 and Ashley Kim ’20. Similarly, Halley Geringer ’19 as the singer Nightingale not only provides impressive vocals but a highly entertaining temperamental attitude.

The acting of the show was complemented by skilled choreography and dancing. The emotions in any musical coalesce around the big musical numbers and the choreography from Liora Lilienthal ’20 help those emotions shine through in this production. From the frantic steps of “Spanish Panic” to the spirited pantomime of “The Minstrel, the Jester and I,” the cast’s skilled dancing and Lilienthal’s compositions set a clear tone for each song.

The other technical aspects were similarly adept. The set, created by Aislyn Fair ’19, is simple but striking, a wooden castle which places the show in time with a moveable prop providing a clever way to move the show between different rooms. The lighting by Jacob Bers ’20 is similarly simple with a fluorescent castle outline ringing the stage to provide a splash of color, which gives the audience a symbolic sense of the tone of each scene. The costumes, created by Melody Wilkenfeld ’18, are surprisingly elaborate: impressive gowns and pantaloons abound, cementing the setting as fairy-tale land.

The show does suffer from the pacing and minor technical problems common to student theater as well as occasional dips in energy, with a few moments where the acting seems more forced. Regardless, it still provides a light and fun tale of the triumph of love.

“Once Upon a Mattress” is playing through Nov. 19 in the SCC Theater. For tickets, call 781-736-3400, visit the SCC or Spingold box office, or buy them online.

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