“Once Upon a Mattress” is all about quality.
Every aspect of the show, from the set painting to the costumes to the ensemble choreography to the musical direction to the impeccable comedic timing was professionally executed. It’s showy, it’s tight and it’s entertaining.
The musical follows the classic fairytale of the princess and the pea — but with a unique twist. “In a far off place” where marriage is forbidden until Prince Dauntless (Joshua Cookingham, junior) finds a bride, Princess Winnifred (Meagan Heffner, senior) finds herself the latest candidate for the crown. However, in order to win the title, she first must pass the test set up by Dauntless’s over-protective mother, Queen Aggravain (Breana Balliet, senior).
Heffner really owned her role – it was a well deserved lead. From her first entrance fresh from the castle moat to her frenetic battle with a pile of mattresses, her stage presence retained an enduring yet darling strength. Her facial expressions alone crafted a vibrant character in every scene and every song. Heffner created an active relationship with the audience, which provided those watching with a complete experience of her performance.
Another favorite performance was Dom Corsoe’s as the silent King Sextimus. His ability to communicate nonverbally — paired with a sly sense of timing and character — resulted in a delicious display of physical comedy.
Balliet — Queen Aggravain — had the strongest voice of the three main female roles. Her performance was enjoyably obnoxious, but lacked a more serious diabolical nature. Unfortunately, the card Aggravain is dealt as a role gives her the option of being either a petty villain or a weirdly perverted one. Balliet delivered the safer, but less interesting, petty villain.
Initially we each thought the choice to perform “Once Upon a Mattress” in the smaller Studio Theatre to be risky, at best. To say the least, it’s a big, colorful show, and penning it up in a small space seems loaded with negative possibilities. Overall, though, the result was pleasantly surprising. The small cast of 21 helped the production succeed in the intimate space.
While the show was excellent on basically every level, it was still the show we all experienced in high school —just with better technique. “Once Upon a Mattress” might not have been written to be a thought-provoking show, but the benefit of doing it at the college level is the opportunity to go beyond the script. Act 2 might have been far more engaging (specifically we think of the songs “Happily Ever After” and “Yesterday I Loved You”) had the actors pushed past the caricatures so expertly established in Act 1.
That said, we recommend without hesitation the production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” It is a tribute to the abilities and dedication of the HU theatre department and one of the finest entertainment options in the next few weeks. Whatever it may lack in depth, it delivers in resonating quality.