By: Sandi Durell
Prince Dauntless the Drab will never find a more suitable kvetch than Jackie Hoffman for a mate, the Princess Winnefred the Woebegone, or Fred as she prefers. “Oh, mommy, mommy please” pleads the mama’s boy to his deceitful mother Queen Aggravain, John ‘Lypsinka’ Epperson. Mattress is the musical comedy adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, written by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer (lyrics) with music by Mary Rodgers that is filling the Transport Group’s new location and departure from their usual agenda at the Abrons Arts Center, keeping audiences guffawing with silly, rollicking pleasure.
I recall the remarkable and much younger Carol Burnett, many moons ago in the original production, who also swam the moat on a stormy night “Man Moons Ago,” and Hoffman announcing her presence, looking bedraggled (like she did swim the moat) in the hysterically funny “Shy,” raising Ms. Hoffman to new heights as she vies for the position of wife to another woebegone, Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams – isn’t that a glorious name) as the 13th contestant attempting to answer all of the Queen’s ludicrous questions correctly or be sent home with a rubber chicken. “An Opening for A Princess” is an urgent call as no one in the land may wed until “Dauntless shares his wedding bed.”
And, oh, what a cast of characters jaunty Jack Cummings III (director) has gathered! You’ll be blown away by the mean Queen (the always fantastic Epperson), bedecked in splendid gowns, jewels and attitude, where just a glance is worth a thousand words, followed about by her lackey, The Wizard, (the always endearing Jay Rogers). Meanwhile, it is the good looking, full of himself Sir Harry (Zak Resnick of the gorgeous voice) who orchestrates Winnifred’s appearance and has also gotten his Lady Larken (sweet soprano Jessica Fontana) pregnant who readies herself to run away rather than face the embarrassment. King Sextimus, a mute, exceptionally played by David Greenspan, pantomimes this to the Minstrel, an outstanding Hunter Ryan Herdlicka – who also acts as narrator – and the Jester, played by Cory Lingner who proves himself a lithe, loveable dancer/singer (“Very Soft Shoes”), as the three conspire to keep the secret in the charming “The Minstrel, the Jester, and I.”
Epperson is brilliant as he and Rogers design a test so telling that Winnifred could never pass, conspiring in “Sensitivity.” Hoffman is delightfully daffy and droll in the role, utilizing some interesting vocal techniques in her song delivery.
It’s feverish fun watching the ladies and gents of the court exhaust themselves in the most tiring dance in the world “The Spanish Panic” leading up to Dauntless’ desperate and loving attempt to clue Winnifred in (“Song of Love”) on what the test to their future together might include as she practices every conceivable task. But will she pass the ultimate analysis and not be able to sleep atop the stack of twenty mattresses (as a true Princess would not) feeling the tiny pea the Queen places at the bottom as the squawky Nightingale of Samarkand sings her Lullaby? You’ll have to come and find out for yourself in this wacky wonderfully raucous fairytale revival.
The ensemble includes Vivenne Cleary, Richard Costa, Michael De Souza, Tim Dolan, Jack Donahue, Amy Griffin, Sarah Killough, Kristen Michelle, Ali Reed and Doug Shapiro. Matt Castle stirs it up as Musical Director
The minimalist storybook scenic design, by Sandra Goldmark, is enhanced throughout by Ken Fallin’s live hand adding illustrations to the cartoon drawing backdrops, an interesting twist but occasionally disconcerting. R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting design enhances and Kathryn Rohe has produced some appealing costumes on what appears to be a low budget. Wigs are by Paul Huntley with wonderful makeup by Louis Braun.
Photos: Carol Rosegg