Monday, March 1, 2010

Dark Monday - Once Upon A Mattress

Top: Carol Burnett in 1959 production; Middle: Sarah Jessica Parker in 1997 production; Bottom: Left, SJP and Right, Zooey Deschanel and Matthew Morrison in 2005 TV production.

First produced in 1959, the show was the musical retelling of the children's favorite, The Princess And The Pea with a young Carol Burnett in headlining the cast. In 1997 the show was again on Broadway, with Sarah Jessica Parker in the role of the Princess. There was also a 1964 production for television starring much of the original Broadway cast, including Burnett. A notable casting note, the role of the Queen was played by Jane White, marking the first time a role written for a caucasian was instead played by an African American. In 2005, there was another television version, with Burnett now playing the role of the Queen, with Tracy Ullman as the Princess, and Glee's Matthew Morrison as Sir Harry. Mattress told the story of a kingdom that forbade marriage until the heir to the throne, Prince Dauntless, was married. He is the son of King Sextimus the Silent, silenced by a curse which would remain in effect until the mouse devoured the hawk, and Queen Aggravain, who ran things with an iron fist. The Queen demands the mousy Dauntless marry a princess, We meet Sir Harry, Prince of the Realm, and Lady Larkin, who wish to marry. Well, Lady Larkin is rather impatient, and we discover why when they sing In A Little While.

Princess Winnifred the Woebegone arrives on the scene, making a less than perfect first impression. Brash and rough-around-the-edges, Princess Winnifred explains a little quirk in her personality with the song Shy.

Lady Larkin and Sir Harry discuss their desire for a honeymoon in Normandy.

Winnifred discusses her bad luck in song. The girl just wants to live like princesses in the fairy tales, with every story ending the same, Happily Ever After.

In order for Winnifred to live happily ever after with Dauntless, she must pass a test prescribed by the Queen. Aggravain decides to place the tiniest pea she can find under 20 mattresses meant to be Winnifred's bed, to test her sensitivity.

In 1977, my high school did a production of the musical. I auditioned for it, and was cast in one of the smaller roles, but helped with building the set, and was quite happy. All was good, until a week before the show, when the student playing King Sextimus had an unfortunate interaction with the authorities, and no longer available to be in the show. The director, who also taught English in the school, asked me to assume the role, which surprised me. However, since something had to be done, I accepted and did some hard-core rehearsing over the next week. While the lines were limited, I was on stage for much of the show, including starting the second act with an entrance from the back of the audience and moving through getting the audience into their seats and settled before the Queen sang Quiet. So, I didn't have spoken lines, but I did have pantomimed ones, including two songs. There was one with The Minstrel, my right-hand-man, and a second with my son, Dauntless.

Top & bottom: That is me on the left.

While I couldn't find a clip from any of the Broadway productions online, but I did find this one, from the Broadway Theater Arts Academy, featuring Trevor Sanderson and Ryan Hartzell. They are performing Man To Man Talk, my big 'number,' in which the King must explain the facts of life to his son.

Winnifred finds it impossible to sleep, and after a sleepless night comes down to complain about the mattresses. Overjoyed, Dauntless starts thinking of the marriage plans. When Aggravain tries to intercede with the plans, he tells her to shut up, and the mouse, Dauntless, devoured the hawk, Aggravain, and suddenly not only can the King speak, but he is ordering the Queen to jump at his every order. The wedding will take place. And we see the Minstrel removing everything but the kitchen sink from under the mattress, from implements of war to household items, ensuring the Princess would be unable to sleep. And they all lived happily ever after, as every fairy tale should.

While Burnett had made some appearances on talk shows and the like, it was the original production that gave her the first real taste of fame. She parlayed that fame into a regular role on the Gary Moore Show, and won an Emmy for her work. And, after a few shows that didn't work out, she started work on The Carol Burnett Show, a musical comedy variety hour, which debuted in 1967 and became part of television history.


  1. Wasn't Bernadetter Peters in the 1972 TV version?

  2. Miss Ginger, indeed she was, she played Lady Larkin. Sadly, I could find no footage of it.



Related Posts with Thumbnails