Mini-review – Once Upon a Mattress – Union Theater (Southwark)

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There is no moment so jolly as finding a killer deal on a show you wanted to see on the very night you happened to have a hole in your schedule. But there it was Sunday evening, a half price Twitter special for Once Upon a Mattress at the Union Theater, and off Jonathan and I went to catch a second show on what had suddenly become a tightly packed day.

I didn’t know anything more about Mattress than it was a silver age musical (per J) that is beloved of American high schools. Its fairy tale structure centers around a non-traditional heroine and a queen who wants to keep her son from ever cutting the apron strings, with a dose of out-of-marriage pregnancy to keep the plot from seeming too entirely old fashioned.

That said, this musical is rather stale, and without the benefit of brilliant songwriting to really lift it up. That left us with the acting, singing, and dancing to enjoy …which, as it turns out, I did. Much of this has to be credited to the outstanding performance of Jenny O’Leary as Princess Winnifred. She radiated charm, had the kind of voice you cheer to be able to enjoy unamplified, and single-handedly got me emotionally involved in the outcome of the show. Winnifred had to pass the princess test, she had to! There was also two lovely, completely unnecessary showoff moments in the “Very Soft Shoes” quasi-tap number (nice job, Daniel Bartlett) and a “Nightingale Lullaby” I was sure was originally written for Yma Sumac and performed with a similar degree of coloratura kabang by Danielle Morris.

These touches make me more forgiving of a soft book because at £20 a pop, it’s still a good deal and an enjoyable escape after a long day. The production is warm and Ms O’Leary worth seeing at the start of what I suspect will be a long and successful career in musical theater.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, December 2nd, at 7:30 PM. It continues through January 5th.)

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