Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show is set "many moons ago" in a faraway kingdom in Europe where Prince Dauntless is desperately searching for a princess to become his wife. There are just a couple of problems. His overbearing and unscrupulous mother the Queen has no intentions of letting her son wed, so she keeps devising ridiculous tests that none of the potential brides can ever pass. The other problem? Until Dauntless weds, no one in the kingdom can marry.
The score, with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer, includes numerous toe-tapping tunes, and the book, by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer, features several humorous characters and some fun plot elements. However, there are a few moments when the show feels padded, due to a couple of slightly lackluster musical numbers and contrived plot twists. Fortunately, a fine cast and lush creative details go a long way to overcome most of the shortcomings in the script and score.
For the final show in their season, director Chris Hamby has made this Theater Works Master Works production a combined effort, by casting young actors from the company's Youth Works program in many of the ensemble and smaller parts. It works well in both fleshing out the size and age range of the characters and giving these younger performers the experience of appearing in a full-size production on the main stage.
Alexandra Utpadel's bright, belting, and beautifully clear voice and her charming personality combine to deliver an incredibly enthusiastic portrayal of Princess Winnifred, a young, tomboy princess who was raised in a swamp. She instills the character with a no-nonsense and carefree innocence that makes her immediately likable. Utpadel has an excellent singing voice and a clear understanding of who her character is, which makes for an incredibly winning performance.
Ryan Malikowski is appropriately meek and mild as the mother's boy Prince Dauntless, yet we immediately see from his bright eyes and rambunctious nature that Dauntless is completely smitten with Winnifred. Malikowski's sweet voice and sunny disposition work well for the charming Prince. Shandi Ilyse is a force to be reckoned with as Dauntless' fast-talking, steamrolling, domineering mother, the Queen. Ilyse has a perfect command of this controlling woman. I've seen Ilyse in a few supporting parts across the Valley over the last couple of years, but after witnessing her incredible performance and commanding stage presence in this production I can't wait to see her in more lead parts in the future.
As the secondary lovers of the piece, Kathlynn Rodin and Joshua Vern have beautiful voices that soar on their several songs. Vern's pompous Sir Henry and Rodin's sweet-natured Lady Larken form a fun and realistic couple. Peter Hart is quite good as the long-suffering King who is mute, so he has to pantomime his feelings. His "Man to Man Talk," in which the King has to demonstrate to Dauntless the birds and the bees through mime is a high point of the show due to Hart and Malikowski's skilled, humorous delivery. The trio of the Minstrel, the Jester and the Wizard are played by Nicholas Gearing, Skyler Washburn and Karson Cook, respectively. Gearing brings a huge dose of charm as the narrator of the piece, while Washburn's playful Jester and Cook's zany Wizard add plenty of levity throughout.
Hamby's direction is smart, instilling some nuance into the comical roles instead of just relying on the mostly two-dimensional caricature parts as written, while Paul Pedersen's choreography delivers plenty of fun, high flying steps. Steve Hilderbrand's music direction derives a beautiful, lush, full sound from both the large cast and the large orchestra. Brett Aiken's set and lighting design deliver some eye-popping moments with numerous moving set pieces and truly terrific lighting. The opening sequence features a beautiful shadow puppet show with excellent puppets by Aubrey Watkins. Kathi Miller, Brenda Moulder, and Ty Taylor's costume are full of color and creativity, and DeAndrea Vaughn's hair and make-up designs are exceptional.
Once Upon a Mattress may be a somewhat slight show, with a few unnecessary moments, but it has charm and an abundance of zany comical characters, some winning songs and plenty of fun shtick. Theater Works' production of this fast moving, family friendly show has a great cast and excellent creative elements and makes for a frothy frolic and a lot of fun.
Once Upon a Mattress runs through May 21st, 2017, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
Music by Mary Rodgers