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Strong performances anchor Mattress



“Once Upon a Mattress” is an adult fairy tale that has brought laughter to audiences for more than 50 years — ever since funny lady Carol Burnett made her Broadway debut in the role of Princess Winnifred.

In this cleverly twisted version of “The Princess and the Pea,” the aptly named Queen Aggravain has decreed that no one in the kingdom may marry before her son, the much-daunted Prince Dauntless, weds an approved princess. The Queen then devises impossible tests for each would-be royal bride — until the arrival of Winnifred the Woebegone (“Fred”) a moat-swimming bog princess and unlikely heroine who captures the hearts of all except, of course, her potential mother-in-law.

Wendy Bax plays the part of Queen Aggravain as though she had been, as Groucho Marx once said, “vaccinated with a phonograph needle.” Her aggressively strident performance captures the spirit of the conniving uber-momma to perfection. Her husband, the accursed King Sextimus the Silent, is skillfully portrayed by local theater veteran Tony Smith, a character actor so good at playing “befuddled” that we sometimes wonder how he finds his way home from the theater.

Ky Fifer (Sir Harry) handles the transition from arrogant sexist to sensitive lover with aplomb, and his superb delivery of “Yesterday I Loved You” adds a touching romantic interlude to the show’s comedic tone. Kristin Barrett (Lady Larken) brings vulnerability, crystal diction and a fine singing voice to the role. She has great timing and a mobile face that brings comic relief to the pathos of her predicament.

Tyler Gould gives Prince Dauntless’ wide-eyed innocence and curiosity a restraint that really works in the small theater, where subtle facial expressions can speak volumes, and his strong vocals make “Song of Love” a delight. His shy but eager demeanor is a perfect counterpoint to Fred’s bold physicality.

Finally, there’s Erin Zelazney (Fred). From the opening notes of “Shy” we knew that we, like Dauntless, were in love. She is a brassy belter with a solid voice, yet she conveys a plaintive insecurity that makes “Happily Ever After” a show-stopper.

This is a condensed version of a longer review that can be found online at westsidetheatre reviews.blogspot.com.