The Wizard of Oz. Oliver! CATS.
For 22 years Rainbow Youth Theatre has been entertaining Valley audiences with memorable productions of some of Broadway’s most famous hit shows. But Rainbow also has a history of introducing contemporary audiences to lesser-known gems such as The Boyfriend, Into the Woods, and Godspell.
This summer, Rainbow is continuing the tradition by mounting a production of the 1959 hit Once Upon a Mattress.
Although largely unknown to modern audiences, Once Upon a Mattress is such an enduring favourite that it has been recorded on film three times.
The first movie was made for television in 1964, and was a black and white production filmed in front of a live audience. Carol Burnett, having starred in the original Broadway production, reprised her role as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, and would do so again for the second film, a colour version made in 1972.
In an ironic twist of fate, the 2005 version saw Burnett switch from playing Winnifred to her nemesis Queen Aggravaine. The latest version also starred Matthew Morrison (now recognizable to fans as Mr. Schuester in FOX’s hit television show Glee), and comedy legend Tracey Ullman. The show has also been revived on Broadway, most recently in 1997, starring Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role.
What accounts for the show’s continued success? For one thing, it is fabulously unique.
It is based on the fairytale The Princess and the Pea, but is unlike any fairytale you’ve seen before. No demure, ladylike princesses here! Winnifred the Woebegone is as spunky and delightful as they come.
Opposing her in her quest for happiness is the all-controlling Queen Aggravaine, who runs the kingdom in place of her mute husband, and is constantly scheming to keep her grown son, Prince Dauntless, from marrying and taking over the kingdom.
Complicating matters is a longstanding law that is making life difficult for all the courtiers of the land: no one may wed until the Prince has found a bride. As princess after princess fails Aggravaine’s wickedly unfair tests, the court begins to get more and more frustrated.
Also contributing to the show’s popularity is the score. The quirky and comical songs are composed by Mary Rodgers, daughter of popular Broadway composer Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame), with lyrics by Marshall Barer; the tunes are pitch perfect for this unconventional fairytale.
Bringing this wonderful comedy to the stage is a talented cast of 30 teenagers, who will delight with songs and dances fit for a princess! They have spent the past three weeks under the direction of noted local director Brian Kruse, rising star Allyson Leet, and popular musical theatre teacher Joey Clarkson, all three of whom have also been contributing their skills to Rainbow’s other summer show, Willy Wonka Junior.
Once Upon a Mattress has performances on July 25, 26 and 28 to 31, all at 7 p.m. at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School. Tickets are $15, and are available at Isfeld, and at Videos n’ More in Comox.
— Rainbow Youth Theatre