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Merry romp 'Once Upon a Mattress' at Randall Theatre

In a fictional medieval kingdom ruled by devious Queen Aggravain and mute King Sextimus the Silent, there is a curse throughout the land that no one may wed until Prince Dauntless the Drab shares his wedding bed. The knights and the ladies in waiting shall have to go on waiting until a suitable bride can be found for Dauntless.

Though there is no shortage of candidates for the hand of the prince, the queen insists on testing each maiden by an unfair test that she has devised. One by one, each lady fails. The situation becomes dire when Sir Harry discovers his fiancee is with child. So he sets out to find a princess for Dauntless himself. He returns with Winifred the Woebegone, who is so eager to arrive that she swims the castle moat and immediately charms Dauntless, as well as most of the kingdom. She also earns the loathing of the queen, who is set on stopping her.

So it goes in the merry romp "Once Upon a Mattress," a romantic musical comedy based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," about a young woman whose royal identity is established by a test of her physical sensibilities. Book is by Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer and Dean Fuller with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer. 

Randall Theatre's production of "Once Upon a Mattress" will open with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, at the community theater, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Opening-night tickets are $22 and include reserved seating, food and beverages. Other shows are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30, Thursdays through Saturdays, May 5-7, 12-14, and 19-21. Matinees are at 1 p.m. Sundays, May 1, 8, 15 and 22. Reserved seating is $18 and can be purchased online at randalltheatre.com or by calling 541-632-3258. Pay-what-you-want tickets will be available 30 minutes before show times, subject to availability.

Look for such familiar songs as "Shy," "In a Little While," "Song of Love (I'm in Love with a Girl Named Fred)" and "Yesterday I Loved You." Bob Herried directs, choreography is by Deborah Downward and musical direction is by Michael Wing.

Randall Theatre was set to produce "Pippin," but when the rights were suspended because of a potential national tour, the company opted for "Once Upon a Mattress," as it worked well with the actors cast for "Pippin," according the director Bob Herried.

Herried is familiar with "Once Upon a Mattress." The musical is a popular choice for community theaters and high-school performing arts groups, and he was part of a middle-school production in 1976.

"I want to start working on shows about three months before rehearsals begin — this obviously was not happening," Herried says. "With the help of our choreographer and music director, we were able to jump in feet first and bring this show to life. Up against a time crunch, others helped out as well."

Randall's artistic director Robin Downward and actor Kathy Wing staged musical numbers, costume and properties manager Toni Holley and stage manager Paula Waterbury also stepped in to work in areas outside of their respective job descriptions. Once the show was up and running, all the company needed was a castle. Set designer Niko Hewitt set out to build the most massive set that has ever been constructed for a Randall show.

"It's multi-leveled and beautiful," Herried says. "What also makes this production a cut above the rest is a different twist on the script's characters. Gone are the submissive damsels in distress. It's time to take a more forward look at female roles. However the characters unfold, this is the charming story of 'The Princess and the Pea' told with music, dance and laughter."

Brad Zentgraf and Mia Gaskin play the romantic leads of Dauntless and Winifred. Also featured are Catherine Hansen as Queen Aggravain, David Hagemaier as King Sextimus, Meagan Kirby as Lady Larken, Austin Kelly as Sir Harry, Rhyon Ingalls as the minstrel, Deborah Downward as the jester and Michael Williams as the wizard. The cast is rounded out with an energetic group of knights and ladies played by Wing, Alex Bringer, Jessica Dutra, Andrea Koell, Jeff Mercer and Toni Muhlbacher.

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Randall Theatre's production of the musical comedy 'Once Upon a Mattress' opens this weekend and runs through May 22. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta