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A Review of Once Upon A Mattress

Once Upon A Mattress
Credit: Carol Rosegg

Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy that opened off-Broadway in 1959. Of course, it didn’t stay off-Broadway and opened later that year within the world-famous district. Once Upon a Mattress has been around since the 1950s, and during that time, it has gained quite a famous reputation that’s thoroughly deserved. It’s a common piece of stage literature for schools and community theatre groups alike, created by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer, and has been picked up for many theatre revivals and TV features over the years.

Popular with audiences around the world, Once Upon a Mattress is a blend of the classical musical you’d want to see on the big stage, as well as the comedy elements that make it so appealing to children and adults alike.

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Once Upon A Mattress: A Musical Comedy Like No Other

Once Upon a Mattress is based on the Princess and the Pea, a 19th-century fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson. It’s this classical literature basis that helps the musical to feel like no other – it has a basis in common cultural literature and understanding, and you’d be hard to find a child who had never heard of the original tale. It’s a musical comedy that’s easy to understand and follow, which makes it an incredibly accessible form of theater for anyone interested in buying a ticket. 

Split into two acts, the musical is set in 15th century Europe, and follows the classical stylings of the Princess and the Pea, with a lot more drama and background characters thrown in to give it substance and spice. Queen Aggravain is the domineering character to keep an eye on, with a mute husband who communicates through mime, who tests Princess after Princess to find out if they are good enough to wed the Prince, and no one in the kingdom may marry until the Prince himself is wed. 

This is where the realm’s leading knight, and the character of Lady Larkin, get pulled into the story – they’re in love, she is pregnant, and cannot bear the shame of being an unwed mother. The knight sets off to find a Princess himself; he finds Winifred from the swamp, who must win the Prince’s heart and pass the Queen’s test. Thus, it’s a race against time, misdirection, musically tinged emotional breakdowns and fights, and plenty of mystery and magic, to ensure a Princess worthy of the Prince is found. 

It’s very much a fairy tale musical, with a lot of fun to be had, and it’s enriching enough to keep audiences coming back again and again. It’s a great way to bring children into the world of theater, with simple themes that are fun to see acted out on stage, as well as musical talent that keeps them feeling fresh for adults as well. 

Once Upon A Mattress is a Blend of Comedy and Music

Once Upon a Mattress is a prime example of how a musical can bring together two such different worlds, into something that’s fun and enjoyable, and most importantly, makes sense to those watching. And that’s because it’s taken both the past and the present, the classical and the contemporary, into equal account. What may seem like a silly romp on the surface has a lot of detail and substance to it at heart, with many actors, such as Carol Bernett, finding their big break in these roles across the years. 

Once Upon a Mattress has gone through quite a few adaptations and revivals. From its small-time beginnings at an adult summer camp where it was written and first amateur performed, and then its Broadway run a year later in 1959, it’s clear that there’s something for everyone within this musical. Once Upon a Mattress has been on a US Tour, it’s traveled to the West End, and it’s had three TV features: one in 1964, one in 1972, and one in 2005, all on US television. There’s an enduring sense of popularity to this musical, all thanks to its use of theme, and the combination of the classical and the modern.

What Do Really Think?

Once Upon a Mattress is a long-running musical that has stood the test of time, and has been made again and again to the resounding applause of many different audiences. It’s a musical that finds a place within the social context, no matter the year, and carries enough heart, as well as realism, to ensure it can be enjoyed by everyone. A must-see. 

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