Review: Once Upon a Mattress at Prince George’s Little Theatre

TheatreBloom rating:

Hear ye! Hear ye! The royal proclamation has been set down by Prince George, and his little theatre, that those interested in a most fanciful retelling of a treasured fairytale find their way by foot, horse, hired carriage, fairy godmother, and any other means necessary to the quaint little playhouse in the woods and witness the whimsically enchanting production of Once Upon a Mattress, being performed by the aforementioned Prince George’s Little Theatre. Under the noble Direction of Lord Frank Pasqualino and the regal Musical Direction of Lord Eric Small, the players therein succeed in a magical evening of song and dance for the court’s enjoyable entertainment.

Lady Larken (Erin Paluchowski) is in love with Sir Harry (John Culhane)Andrew Culhane
Lady Larken (Erin Paluchowski) is in love with Sir Harry (John Culhane)

The Royal Clothier, Lady Linda Swann, has bestowed upon the company a most magnificent sense of Renaissance couture. From the ensemble straight up through the royal family Lady Swann finds the most delectable fabric and color combinations to suit each character type featured in the performance. The audaciously decadent dress and oversized headwear reserved for Queen Aggravain fits like a glove to the character’s outspoken personality. The Lady Swann finds a uniqueness to each outfit, especially among the ensemble, while simultaneously keeping them fitted within the same production.

The multi-talented Lord Frank Pasqualino wears many hats in this enticing little entertainment, including that of Ye Olde Scenic Designer. Lord Pasqualino captures the essence of fairytale dreams with his wobbly crooked towers that entreat the imagination to journey along with the Minstrel as he engages the audience in the true story of The Princess and The Pea. This muse-worthy and idyllically picturesque set is accented by the work of the Royal Illuminator, Lord Garrett Hyde. Together with Lord Pasqualino there are featured moments sprinkled liberally throughout the production that appease the eye most splendidly.

Lord Pasqualino is also responsible for the Regal Enchantments of Sound Sorcery and Video Magic, many of which are featured at the tale’s beginning. Projected through sorcery onto a simple scrim, Lord Pasqualino’s vision of the many versions of the story before the evening’s entertainment are seen in vibrant color. Off-stage noises are Lord Pasqualino’s specialty, creating realistic happenings beyond the eye of the audience to keep the play going even in moments that cannot be seen on stage.

The company of PGLT's Once Upon a Mattress performing as a preview at The Maryland Renaissance Festival to promote their upcoming show
The company of PGLT’s Once Upon a Mattress performing as a preview at The Maryland Renaissance Festival to promote their upcoming show

The good Lady Melissa Dunlap finds herself in charge of the court’s nightly entertainment, mainly in the dancing department. Her choreographic skills, though simple, are clean and provide many moments of amusement, particularly during “The Spanish Panic.” Lady Dunlap’s time-traveling sorcery brings subtle pop-cultural nods to dances yet to be invented in the year 1428 but are received most hysterically all the same. Despite a few missed opportunities to fill certain musical moments with more dancing, the Lady Dunlap does a fine job of featuring her strengths, mainly soft-shoe work during an appropriately titled number, “Very Soft Shoes.” Keep eyes and ears out for the stomping-tap routine of swords, shields, and feet during “Quiet” as well. 

The Cast of Prince George's Little Theatre's production of Once Upon a MattressAndrew Culhane
The Cast of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s production of Once Upon a Mattress

Heralding the aural arrival of resplendence throughout the performance is the Director of Music, Lord Eric Small. The ensemble delivers hearty sounds for larger numbers like “Song of Love” and “An Opening for a Princess.” Lord Small’s true triumphs are in the harmonies of the Ladies in Waiting chorus, featured in “The Swamps of Home.” While singing is not everyone’s strongest suit in this performance, Lord Small fills in the tonal gaps and intonation issues with vigorous acting enthusiasm, which engages the audience in a captivating manner.

Lord Frank Pasqualino finds a great many moments to put his hilarious signature upon the piece, making it a truly unique experience for those that come to see it. Princess #12 (Lady Jessica Inzeo) is the prime example of this highland approach to hilarity, wherein her likeness is a brave choice upon the stage. Lady Inzeo takes this brief cameo moment near the top of the show and steals the scene with her uncanny accent and entertaining impersonation. The show moves along at a gallop, the scenes blending seamlessly into one another without lengthy pauses or drastic stops, compliments of Lord Pasqualino’s even pacing abilities.

Prince Dauntless (center- Lord Michael Culhane) and the company of Once Upon a Mattress at the Maryland Renaissance Festival promoting their upcoming performance
Prince Dauntless (center- Lord Michael Culhane) and the company of Once Upon a Mattress at the Maryland Renaissance Festival promoting their upcoming performance

Though silent he may be, the Good King Sextimus (Lord John Shackelford) finds his place amid a comic trio. Lord Shackelford is but one third of “The Minstrel (Lord Ken Kemp) The Jester (Lord Shane Conrad) and I,” but fits remarkably well among them. The aforementioned number is a hilarious dalliance into a duet featuring Lords Kemp and Conrad, and naturally the silent third harmony delivered by Lord Shackelford. But it’s Lord Shackelford’s amusing facial expressions and exaggerated mime gestures and charades that keeps the audience on their toes when it comes to his portrayal. Experienced heavily in Dauntless’ solo “Man to Man Talk” Lord Shackelford kicks his pantomime into high gear, a truly exciting experience that results in great hilarity.

The Lord Ken Kemp, as the narrative minstrel, delivers dashing harmonies in the ‘quartet’ of “Normandy” a song perfectly suited for his range. While a few of the higher end notes featured in “Many Moons Ago” are just beyond Lord Kemp’s grasp, he delivers the story with fascinating aplomb, reeling the audience into his tale and encouraging them to hang on every word. Nimble on his toes, particularly in comic moments shared with the Jester and the King, Lord Kemp is not a wandering minstrel that shall soon be forgotten in this kingdom.

The Jester (Shane Conrad) tells the story of his father’s ability to dance the “Soft Shoe"Andrew Culhane
The Jester (Shane Conrad) tells the story of his father’s ability to dance the “Soft Shoe”

Lord Conrad, a sprightly young lad tackling the role of the Jester, delivers this comic character with sincerity and wonder. Working his puppet-jester-head-stick, Lord Conrad unearths many titillating moments that tickle the funny bone of the audience throughout the performance. His rich voice and eagerness to perform is well reflected in “Very Soft Shoes,” a solo number wherein his fleet-footed fancy dance becomes the central focus of the stage and his singing sound echoes with robust regality.

Charming Sir Harry (Lord John Culhane) and his simpering lovebird Lady Larken (Lady Erin Paluchowski) are the epitome of medieval love. Lord Culhane and Lady Paluchowski fit like hand in glove when it comes to canoodling and romancing one another. Their duet “In a Little While” is filled to the saccharine brim with innocent love and overflowing with amorous intent. Seconded only by their duet “Yesterday I Loved You”, featured near the end of the performance, the pair alight upon their natural desires for one another with great vivacity. Lord Culhane and Lady Paluchowski play into the stereotype of dashing, albeit brawny, knight and winsome, albeit chatty, lady in waiting.

The Queen (Linda Swann) and the King (John Shackelford) don’t approve of the princess that has caught the eye of their son Prince Dauntless (Mike Culhane).Andrew Culhane
The Queen (Linda Swann) and the King (John Shackelford) don’t approve of the princess that has caught the eye of their son Prince Dauntless (Mike Culhane).

Queen Aggravain (Lady Linda Swann) and her rather corny sidekick The Wizard (Lord Ken Kienas) are quite the mouthful, even if it is the queen who never shuts up. Lady Swann who has caught a case of unstoppable verbal diarrhea in the role, becomes the epitome of a horrifying helicopter mom to her sunny-but-vaguely dispositioned son, Prince Dauntless (Lord Michael Culhane.) Blustering and puffing about throughout the performance, Lady Swann unleashes some thoroughly ingenious moments of villainy alongside her shadowed companion, Lord Kienas. Plotting and planning against the notion of “happily ever after” the pair are a match made in the bottom of a witch’s cauldron when it comes to their fiendish ways.

Lord Michael Culhane defies description in the role of Prince Dauntless. With vivid facial expressions that explore the vacant depths of his character’s empty mind, Lord Culhane settles into the shallow spaces of the character’s intentions with relative ease. His warm and tender voice is perfectly suited for his big opening number, “Opening for a Princess” and he erupts on the scene with unrelenting jubilation for “Song of Love,” a true profession of his emotional hurly-burly toward the very curious Princess Winnifred (Lady Meg Nemeth.) Both Lord Culhane and Lady Nemeth do exceptional work in creating the awkward yet cherished and sweet chemistry that formulates between the peculiar pairing of Dimwitted Prince and Swampy Princess. Working tirelessly together, their combined gestures, facial expressions, and overall bodily interactions carry these characters to new and amusing heights throughout.

Princess Winnifred (the Lady Meg Nemeth) and Prince Dauntless (the Lord Michael Culhane) at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, promoting their upcoming performance of Once Upon a Mattress
Princess Winnifred (the Lady Meg Nemeth) and Prince Dauntless (the Lord Michael Culhane) at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, promoting their upcoming performance of Once Upon a Mattress

Possessing the beauty of the bog in her soul, the Lady Nemeth owns her portrayal of Princess Winnifred divinely. Really exposing the saucy and jazzy side of her character during “Happily Ever After”, Lady Nemeth makes this a pivotally entertaining moment in the performance. In addition to her indefatigable smile and exuberant energies, she finds the comic honesty in the character’s plight and works the angles of her character’s existence in a fashion that generates both empathy and support among the audience. Lady Nemeth’s signature arrivals, particularly her watery beginnings, are uproarious and complete the character with a glossy finish.

The regal decree has been set! The royal announcements made! The offers extended to all within earshot of the kingdom. Once Upon a Mattress should be experienced without delay! And wait not for your chance to procure tickets as performances have already begun to sell out.

Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

Once Upon a Mattress plays through September 26, 2015 at Prince George’s Little Theatre in residence at The Bowie Playhouse— 16500 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 937-7458 or purchase them online.


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