LA PLATA, Md. – The adaptation of classic fairy tales for the stage and film is a time-honored tradition that is primarily on display within Disney movies. However, every once in a while one is adapted independent of the Mouse. Once produced, the more grim aspects of the story are typically sanitized to make the narrative more palpable for your average audience member and a much needed levity is added to the narrative. The Port Tobacco Players’ (PTP) newest production of Once Upon a Mattress is a lovely example of just this.
Based on the 1835 story The Princess and the Pea that was originally penned by Hans Christian Anderson (also the author of the beloved Little Mermaid), Once Upon a Mattress tells the story of a kingdom that is seeking a princess for their beloved Prince Dauntless to wed. The overly protective queen smother isn’t keen on her son marrying anyone, so she fashions tests for each potential female suitor that are impossible to pass. As a last ditch effort to find a suitable princess, Sir Harry ventures off and finds an untraditional, but fabulous princess for Dauntless. However, that’s not the end of this tale, but merely the beginning.
John Merritt’s set boasts an entire castle that fills the stage and possesses the ability to open and close, depending on what the scene calls for. The level of detail in everything down to even the shading detail of the bricks and the use of adorned turrets behind the castle is absolutely logic-defying for this level of theatre. Small set pieces to subtly convey scene changes are a welcome addition that typically don’t feel bulky or distracting. In particular, the piece used for the wizard consultation scene was a delicious treat for the senses to behold. I’ve come to expect excellence from PTP when it comes to their technical aspects, and Merritt’s set was no exception to this.
Mother and daughter theatre duo Heather Bauer and Kaitelyn Bauer Dieguez are at the helm of this production as co-directors. Their casting choices of the two leads – Demetri Black as Prince Dauntless and Alyshia Bradley as Princess Winifred prove quite fruitful for a well led show. The stage chemistry between the two of them practically leaps off of the stage and allows the audience to utterly immerse themselves into each scene that the two share. Bauer and Dieguez have chosen to lean specifically into the over-the-top style of humor (think 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The comedic choice of the style in which Princess Winifred makes her grand entrance was a fantastic one.
The complete cast of this show cohesively creates a fun environment with their high energy dancing and fun reactions during the narrative. However, the crux of this show rests on the exceedingly capable shoulders of Alyshia Bradley as Princess Winifred and Demetri Black as Prince Dauntless. Bradley’s interpretation of the princess infuses the character with an unbridled ferocity that is a joy to watch every single time that she graces the stage. Her facial expressions contain a thoughtfully measured animation to them and her physicality is beyond perfection. She had me guffawing several times in my seat.
Black has crafted the quintessential momma’s boy with eyes full of trepidation and a heart full of hope. His character’s essence is so pure that one can’t help but root for him to receive the entire world and more. A delightful, goofy smile punctuates his comedic moments that could break to the center of even the coldest of hearts. The true magic happens whenever Bradley and Demetri share a scene together. Their mutual energy feels authentically sincere and they convey the perfect epic first love vibe. I would go see this show again just to be able to melt into their sweetly crafted sequences together once more.
Revisiting childhood stories through the lens of musical theatre is always a welcomed one because the more adult layers are able to be at last peeled back for us to revel in. PTP’s production of Once Upon a Mattress achieves just this with its sly use of innuendo that will soar over a child’s head, but will leave their parents in irrevocable stitches. Add in two exceedingly capable leads and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an enjoyable evening (or afternoon) out as a family that will have you leaving the theatre afterwards saying “She swam the swamp!”
Approximate run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
This show contains innuendo, but children will not understand it. Due to this, this show is considered family friendly.
Once Upon a Mattress will be playing at 508 Charles Street La Plata, MD 20646 through April 2nd, 2023. For more information and to purchase your tickets, please visit their website here.
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