POST: 'Once Upon a Mattress' - I seriously had to fight the urge not to sing


What's it about?

In an effort to prevent Princess Winnifred from marrying Prince Dauntless, Queen Aggravarin comes up with a test where Winnifred must prove her sensitivity by feeling a pea underneath 20 matresses.

What'd I experience?

I have a bit of history with this show. In high school I was head of stage crew for a lot of my school's productions, and freshman year we just so happened to put on Once Upon a Mattress. We held it in a small blackbox theater, and it was one of the most mistake filled shows I was ever a part of. My team was bad, like REALLY bad, to the point where we completely forgot to bring out a chair for a musical number and the actor had to improvise and stand around.

Despite that and a few other mishaps, our team was able to rally and just barely make it out of the 3 nights of performances. I was able to keep a prop for my efforts (a giant paper mache weight that would fall apart every five seconds, which I promptly destroyed in a weird sort of cathartic moment for me) and felt like our job had been done. But I realized I never actually SAW the show. Sure I had heard it plenty of times and I got an occasional side view of the show, but I never got to actually experience it. So I figured, why not go and actually see the show that brought me so much stress my freshman year.

The theater itself was very nice, and going in I happened to accidentally follow this big group of people who happened to be there for "Press Purposes" - so I think the people in the theater thought I was with them. The man handing out tickets gave us a general "hope to read good things about the show!" and I was the only one who responded and said "don't worry, you're in good hands" or something like that. This prompted the rest of the actual press people to simultaneously turn around and look at me with an confused "who the hell are you" sort of gaze, but I just looked straight ahead and kept walking. 

After sitting and watching the show for only a few moments, memories started flooding back to me and I realized why I enjoyed working on it, the music is just so infectious. I seriously had to fight the urge not to sing "HEY NANI NANI IS IT YOU" while "Shy" came on and I didn't realize how drilled into my head "Sensitivity" was until hearing it and swaying my head in rhythm even before it started (the fact that they're so embedded in me is also a result of how many times we needed to rehearse, but that's not important). Even my fake press friends/strangers were sitting there bobbing their heads and smiling. The music was just so feel goody that it's hard not to just get in that mood while listening to the show.

I was genuinely laughing throughout the entire show, even at the cheesiest little things, like when Winnifred is telling Dauntless her name. She says she'd prefer to be called by her nickname, so Dauntless thinks it will be Winnie, but then she says "Fred!" Then the way Dauntless is saying "oh my god that's such a beautiful name" just cracks me up for some reason. Even when Winnifred lifts the obviously fake 500 pound weight (which the sight of triggered some weird PTSD for me), I got a good laugh just from seeing all of the actors' reactions. On top of that the lyrics "I'm in love with a girl name Fred" alone were making me giggle and still make me smile just thinking about it. The songs were just really funny, "Shy" specifically being my favorite because the whole song is about her being shy meanwhile she's making this big theatrical deal about it. The show gave me such a lighthearted and energetic feeling.

Looking back to when I was doing stage crew made me realize something I find very interesting about the show. It's incredibly enjoyable to sit and watch it, but it's also really enjoyable purely from an audio standpoint. Yeah I got a little lost when King Sextimus (great name by the way) is "Speaking" since he's mute for almost the entire show. But the way the music goes and the way the Minstrel and Jester sing, allowed me to fill the gap and understand what he's saying even without sound. Even without physically seeing most of the show the first times I experienced it I was able to picture it in my head almost exactly how it played out. That was just really cool to see work out.

Also a quick side note, did anybody really think that test was fair? They stack about 20 mattresses on top of pea and say that "to prove she is a princess must be able to feel the pea in her sleep" from all the way on top. Nobody thought "hey wait, that's complete b*******." Everybody just agreed like "YEAH YOU'RE NOT A TRUE PRINCESS UNLESS YOU IMPOSSIBLY FEEL THIS PEA THAT'S DEFINITELY CRUSHED UNDER ALL THESE MATTRESSES." I know I'm nitpicking a fairy tale over here but this is one of those "come on guys" situations.


Want to see it?

$20 Student Rush

Once Upon a Mattress
Transport Group
@ Abrons Arts Center
thru Jan. 3