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Once Upon A Mattress -10/23/1998

Music by Mary Rogers. Lyrics by Marshall Barer. Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer. Cast: Kelly McMorris, Clayton Cogswell, Amanda Amadei, Tinashe Kajese, Nanette Hennig, Danforth Comins, Linnea George, Heather Stafford, Stacy Freeman, Kevin Asselin, Dan Wolfe, Jeffrey Nauman, Chris Basler, Heather Bray, Anthony R. LaPalio, Leslie B. Carto, Tracy Callahan, Dennis Schnell, Jeremy W. Harrison, David Beeman, Tiffany Boeke. Director: Susannah Berryman. Musical Director: James Wells. Choreographer: Cynthia Pipkin-Doyle. Scenic Designer: Nathan G. Stuffel. Costume Designer: Jennifer Flitton Adams. Lighting Designer: Michael Fandel. Sound Designer: Shawn Parr. Properties Designer: Molly Malone. Stage Manager: Jeffrey T. Hoppe.

University of Illinois Department of Theater.

Through November 1. Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the
Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Box
office: 333-6280.


Fairy tales never go out of style.

So even though "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical version of "The Princess and the Pea," was first performed off-Broadway in 1959, it's still frequently revived.

Its light, bright comedy and tuneful score are fine for everyone from high schoolers to Broadway, which is probably why "Mattress" keeps popping up.

Still, it may not be the kind of material associated with the University of Illinois Department of Theater, which is known for more cutting-edge fare. But this kind of show may appeal to a different audience than U of I theater normally attracts, and that may be reason enough to include it on the schedule.

This "Mattress," directed by guest director Susannah Berryman at the beautiful Colwell Playhouse, is as charming and sweet as any fairy tale. The show's pretty songs, whimsical humor, and delightful characters are all showcased nicely.

And if the battle-ax queen and lecherous old king are stereoypes I'd just as soon do without, at least they're treated with good humor, and offset by the refreshing tom-boy heroine and her naive prince.

In terms of production values, "Once Upon a Mattress" looks first-rate. The set, designed by grad student Nathan G. Stuffel, is lovely, with just the right make-believe feel, as well as efficient, making the staging seem effortless and smooth.

The saucy, cheeky costumes, designed by Jennifer Flitton Adams, are also terrific. I especially liked the Queen's crown, which looked somewhat like a clipper ship.

Cynthia Pipkin-Doyle's choreography makes the most of a variety of dancing styles, giving the "Spanish Panic" a hilarious turn, while James Wells' musical direction sparks a well-tuned orchestra and some very fine singers.

Still, it's the lead performers who stand out again and again. Danforth Comins is quite adorable, completely in character and very different from previous U of I theater outings as Prince Dauntless the Drab. As it happens, he is neither dauntless nor drab, but he is wonderful. His "Song of Love" and his half of "Man to Man Talk" are both gems.

Comins is perfectly matched by Tiffany Boeke as Princess Winnifred, the swamp-bred charmer who can swim a moat with one hand tied behind her back. Boeke has a great voice, and she belts it out to excellent effect on "The Swamps of Home" and "Happily Ever After." [Note for trivia buffs -- this classifies as Boeke's second Carol Burnett role, since Burnett got her start as Princess Winnifred and last appeared on Broadway in "Moon Over Buffalo," which Boeke did as part of Summerfest 98.]

David Beeman and Stacy Freeman, as Sir Harry and Lady Lark, also contribute melodious, expressive voices to the production, and Jeffrey Nauman does a super job (soft shoe and all) as the Jester.

In smaller roles, Kevin Asselin contributes throughout as "Sir Studley," while Tracy Callahan makes a very good impression as the warbling Nightingale of Samarkand.

Less effective are the Minstrel, played by Kelly McMorris, who seems to have difficulty with the demands of the music, and the mute King, played by Dan Wolfe. Wolfe's antics find favor with the audience, but he plays the role too young to be Prince Dauntless's father and too out-of-control for someone who relies on charades to communicate.

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