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“Once Upon a Mattress” at Cox Mill

blumey student critics
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Shannon Sullivan

How many times have you heard “The Princess and the Pea?” Chances are, you know the story well: A princess must pass a royalty litmus test by sleeping on a pea covered by twenty mattresses. When she is unable to sleep all night due to the hardness of the pea, she is declared a true princess and marries the prince.

Now that you recall the original, are you familiar with the swamp princess update? If so, you know the musical “Once Upon a Mattress.”

It begins with the Minstrel (Isaiah Christian) saying he knows exactly what happened, because he was there. Devious Queen Aggravain has created a law stating no one in the kingdom may marry until her son, Prince Dauntless, marries. Any princess who tries to win Dauntless’ hand, however, is subjected to a “princess test” and, because of the unjust difficulty, can’t pass it.

As princess after princess fails, the law poses a problem for Sir Harry (Michael Ferrell) and Lady Larken (Alyson Burrell), who need to get married for, ahem, moral reasons. Harry sets out to find a princess who will pass the queen’s test and brings back Princess Winnifred (Melanie Robinson). After shocking the entire kingdom by swimming the moat, Winnifred has to overcome the queen’s sabotage to be able to live happily ever after.

Energetic senior Melanie Robinson gave Winnifred fantastic confidence in herself and her quirks, a particularly refreshing choice given today’s conformist high school society. Robinson belted one of the show’s ironic and iconic anthems, “Shy,” with vivacity and gusto.

Though Ethan Pestyk’s King Sextimus had almost no actual lines, he still managed to get his point across with minimal interpretation from the Minstrel and the Jester. Julia Blasi was the perfect overbearing mother as Aggravain; at one point, she came into the orchestra pit and corrected the conductor on his speed for “The Spanish Panic.”

A cast of nearly fifty executed choreography with admirable synchronicity, and Michael Ferrell’s Prince Harry exuded the self-assurance and determination one would expect of a knight.

Spectacular costumes brought the production together and established each character’s status and personality. A minimal set kept the story going without being too distracting, and the twenty-four-person orchestra played fantastically.

There were setbacks; the orchestra occasionally drowned out singers, so pieces of some songs were lost, and some characters’ emotional moments were shrill to the point of becoming unintelligible.

But a new interpretation of a traditional story proved to be adorable in its whimsicality and provided a charming spin on everyone’s favorite ending: happily ever after.

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