This fable about a girl proving she is worthy of marrying a prince will start a run of seven performances this weekend by the talented singers, dancers and actors at Reed High School.
The title of the play comes from the test that Princess Winnifred, played by 17-year-old Reed senior Kaelyn Moss, must pass to prove her worth to marry Prince Dauntless the Drab, played by sophomore John Rader. No, the test isn’t to come up with a new name for him or make him less drab. If Princess Fred, as she is called, is so sensitive she can’t sleep on a pile of 20 mattresses with a tiny pea underneath, then she is sensitive enough to become royalty.
The story has undergone a variety of adaptations since its debut off-Broadway in 1959, including on television with Carol Burnett and a Broadway revival in 1996 with Sarah Jessica Parker. Kathy King, the play’s director and a math teacher at Reed, said the school’s rendition of the musical comedy is “hysterically updated” by the cast of 55 prep actors, 12 stage crew and 10 musicians in the orchestra. This is the 27th straight year Reed has put on a spring musical.
“It’s very much a knee-slapper, oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-believe-I-just-said-that humor,” said Moss, whose credits at Reed include “Hairspray,” “White Christmas” and “Singing in the Rain.” She described playing Princess Fred as “my ideal role.”
“Fred comes really easily because I don’t have to act when I’m her,” Moss said. “I am a lot like her. Kind of a spaz.”
Moss said this production is the first time in her four years that students have gotten to choreograph most of the dances, which she really enjoyed.
“It was really fun because I love Broadway-style dancing so I was trying to put emotion and put story into it,” she said. “I’m a cheeseball for that.”
Senior Jeff Mercer, who plays The Wizard in “Once Upon a Mattress,” is also a veteran of Reed stage productions. He said the comedic elements overshadow the moral of the story, but there are still lessons about acceptance to be learned and applied to life from the tale of the princess and the pea. Princess Winnifred’s spontaneous, free spirit is strange at first to the royal family and the people of the kingdom, but eventually everyone comes to love her — not unlike a high school campus.
“It’s like when freshmen get here, at the beginning you want to know who are they, what are they like,” he said. “They’re definitely weird and strange and you don’t know what they’re like but they turn out to be kind of cool people.”
As with most fairy tales, there is a single, underlying force.
“This is a story of love and how to overcome hardship to get love,” King said.
What on Earth do teenagers know about love?
“Well, they love love,” King said. “Teenagers love love and they want to have the person they want to have.”
Performances of “Once Upon a Mattress” will be staged in the Reed High School theater at 7 p.m. March 20, 22, 23, 24, 28 and 29 and at 2 p.m. March 31. Tickets cost $12, $11 and $10 depending on seating. All tickets must be reserved online at www.showtix4u.com.