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November 22 – December 22, 2002
Once Upon a Mattress

Reviewed November 23
Running time 2 hours 25 minutes

What would otherwise be a delightful community theater level production of this lighthearted musical diversion is marred by a slow pacing that makes it drag badly. That aside, however, there are charms to be noted, particularly the performances of Kathleen Gallagher as the Princess from the land of the foggy, foggy dew and J. R. Owens as the Prince who thinks she’s just the girl for him. There is also a solid supporting cast and a good overall design.

Storyline: This musical treatment of the story of the Princess and the Pea sets the tale in a kingdom where the law dictates that no one can marry until the heir to the throne finds a bride. The overbearing Queen has driven her husband into mute submission and rejects every candidate for her son’s hand until a Knight who has impregnated one of the Ladies in Waiting recruits a true princess in hopes of getting the Prince married so he can marry his own lady before her pregnancy is noticeable.

Richard Rodgers’ daughter wrote the music for this confection in the 1950s and it was a big hit for Carol Burnett. A recent Broadway revival featured Sarah Jessica Parker. Filling those shoes is a spirited, and strong voiced, Kathleen Gallagher who sells her big numbers. She sings in a strong, clear voice about how "Shy" she is and how she longs to live "Happily Ever After."  She has a nice stage presence and fine comic timing. Her Prince, J. R. Owens, has less command when singing – although his work translating the mute King’s version of a lesson on the birds and the bees into the song "Man-to-Man Talk" is very good. He is at his best, however, in the comic postures he assumes when peering out at the newly arrived Princess from behind his over-protective mother, played with a nice sense of vigor by Jane Squier Bruns.

It appears that The Montgomery Playhouse is a fortunate community theater troupe both in the resources they can put on the stage and in the stage itself. The facility at Asbury is first rate with comfortable seating, excellent equipment and a playing space that, while a bit shallow, is well used in David Jones’ excellent set design. The show has no fewer than ten locales in a medieval castle. Jones resists the temptation to make each spectacular or even distinct and, instead, provides a number of set pieces that slide, glide and rotate into different arrangements smoothly and quickly. Color is added primarily by the costumes of Monica (Wenzel) Russell and Diane Garies. It is a combination that works well and has the benefit of never delaying an already overlong performance.

The sluggishness that hides these charms comes in both the stage direction and the musical direction. The director, Patti Woolsey, is also the choreographer and deserves kudos for an intriguing opening routine in which the chorus performs a mock-mechanical mime that illustrates the prologue sung by Ken Kemp as a Minstrel. Woolsey also does a nice job on the big dance, "The Spanish Panic." Anne Raugh, who provides a well played keyboard accompaniment to this and all the numbers, fails to establish much rhythmic energy or to get her singers to pick up the pace when needed.

Music by Mary Rodgers. Lyrics by Marshall Barer. Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer. Directed and choreographed by Patti Woolsey. Music direction by Anne Raugh. Additional choreography by Jane MacFarlane. Design: David Jones (set) Monica (Wenzel) Russell and Diane Garies (costumes) Steve Denning (lights) Bob Schwartz (sound). Kathleen Gallagher, J. R. Owens, Jane Squier Bruns, Ken Kemp, Steve Little, Julie Ann Hamilton, Andy Aviles, Don Bruns, Richard Smith, Cecellia Rogers, Netta Morelli, Alex Reeid, Dee Robinson, Jo Klein-Duke, Sonya Oxendine.