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LA Theater Review

Once Upon A Mattress

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This fluffy musical confection, based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Princess and the Pea and celebrating its golden anniversary, opened on Broadway in 1959. Originally featuring Carol Burnett's breakout performance in the titular role, the show's sweetness, tinged with the faintest of sexual innuendos, has made it a perennial favorite of high school and community theaters nationwide. Its popularity would lead one to believe it's not all that hard to pull off a watchable production, but au contraire!

This incarnation's shortcomings, of which there are many, fall squarely on the shoulders of director Terra Taylor and choreographer Tim Thorn. Yes, it's true that the vast majority of the cast seem ill-suited even as they struggle vainly to pull off this rarely challenging material. But their efforts certainly aren't aided by clunky scene work and ridiculously frenetic dance movement that leaves most of the company unable to sing for all the air-gasping going on in this arena-style playing space.

There are a few notable exceptions, including Christina Ferraro as the tomboyish Princess Winnifred. With a spunky demeanor and the show's strongest voice, Ferraro's rendition of "Happily Ever After" is a major highlight. Robert Tafoya as Prince Dauntless, the mama's boy who spreads his wings, and Penelope Yates as the lovelorn Lady Larken provide better-than-average musical acumen. The same is true of ensemble members Amber Fonseca and Hesley Harps.

The remainder of the company flails around in a futile search for comic timing, rhythmic precision, and even a modicum of intonation. Dorrie Braun's über-controlling Queen Aggravain comes off as a bitchy, burnt-out high school detention monitor. Reid Lee's narcissistic Sir Harry seems strangely hesitant. And rather than a hangdog, henpecked take on the curse-ridden mute, King Sextimus, Thomas Colby goes for a bug-eyed, almost mentally challenged version.

Miguel J. Barragan's costuming is on par with the average children's-theater production. Tim Thorn's fairly colorful scenic design adorns the venue nicely. The 20-layer bed unit works well, although, like most of this production, the sight gag involving why Winnifred sleeps so poorly is disappointingly shortchanged.

Presented by and at the Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. May 14–June 21. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (323) 939-9220 or www.lyrictheatrela.com.

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