Kelly Critic Review: 'Once Upon a Mattress,' St. Joseph's High School

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If we all look back into our childhood memories of fairytales, within the canon of the abundant stories concerning princesses, magic, and evil queens, I am sure we will remember something about an unlikely princess and a pea. Whether or not we know the story completely, the Princess and the Pea resonates with audiences. This story was adapted into a musical called "Once Upon a Mattress," which I had the pleasure of seeing at St. Joseph's High School in a delightful and talented performance.

The story is about a prince, Dauntless, who wishes to marry for himself but also for the sake of a lady in waiting, Lady Larken, who is in a delicate condition, due to her lover, Sir Harry. However, Dauntless' overbearing mother, Queen Aggravain, is herself spoiled with the opportunity to say and do whatever she wishes, on account of her mute husband, King Sextimus. She foils all attempts of a princess marrying her son with ridiculously impossible tests. This stems from her own snobbery.

So one can imagine what happens when a "princess," hailing from the swamplands, fetched by the father of Larken's illegitimate child, Sir Harry, decides to swim the moat and enter the queen's court completely wet. It doesn't take long for everybody in the castle to begin to like her, especially the prince.

The wizard assists the queen in her testing, so the minstrel, who is plotting with the jester and the king, who is aware of the expecting Larken, tricks the wizard into revealing the test. The test is eventually passed and all are happy, except of course the queen, who is no longer able to act as a tyrant.

I live quite a ways from the New Kensington theater where it was performed, but I was happy to discover that after the long drive I was not in the least disappointed in the show. The theater itself was small and the stage was also small. I must commend all involved for their ability to make that small stage come to life.

The sets were very pleasing. I especially enjoyed the light show during the "Spanish Panic." The costumes, especially worn by the domineering queen, were dazzling and added a historical sense. The dancing was pleasing to watch, such as in the "Spanish Panic," and the singing was also well-performed, especially "Many Moons Ago," which contained some very high notes.

I enjoyed how the prince's demeanor was all around very docile and shy, such as his character, very "undauntless." I must especially compliment the queen, who stole attention when on stage and had the perfect persona for the officiously dictatorial character she was.

Each of the individual performances were very well acted, including the bubbly and very "shy" Princess Winifred. The singing and dancing by the jester in "Very Soft Shoes" was also very good. The story consists of the evil queen and the princess, while it is left to the performers to add the magic, which St. Joseph's did.

The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (, a long-time Kelly Awards judge.



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