Maddie Day, left, Naomi Medley and Jackson Werner appear in Teen Musical Theater's 'Once Upon a Mattress.' [Photo by Jim Craven] Photog is good olþÄô Jim Craven

TMTO puts a new 'tweak' on a Broadway musical

Craterian Performances' youth theater program travels to 15th-century Europe with its rendition of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Teen Musical Theater of Oregon frolics through a long ago and faraway fictional medieval kingdom where the devious Queen Aggravain rules and her son, Prince Dauntless, is, well ... dauntless in his attempt to find a mate worthy of the crown.

Cailey McCandless, the show’s director and choreographer, reworked the fairy tale farce about a princess who must prove her royal identity and win the prince’s heart.

McCandless tweaked the dated gender jokes and allowed her teenaged thespians to infuse their own quirky brand of humor into the familiar classic tale of royal courtship and comeuppance, she says.

Slated for just a three-day run, TMTO’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 2, followed by matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Tickets are $24, $12 for ages 18 and younger, and can be purchased at craterian.org, the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

“Once Upon a Mattress” is a musical comedy with music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer and book by Barer, Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s 1835 fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” the show opened on Broadway in 1959. The musical received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical as well as a Best Leading Actress nomination for Carol Burnett, who made her Broadway debut as the original Princess Winifred.

Although it garnered mixed reviews at the premiere, “Once Upon Mattress” is widely performed by high school drama students and community theater groups and is a fan favorite.

McCandless attributes the show’s enduring appeal to its assortment of larger-than-life characters and crazy, broad comedy.

“The stereotypical medieval characters are fun to portray and fun to watch,” she says. "And then there’s the crazy costumes, bright colors, dancing and memorable music.”

To put a contemporary spin on the story, however, the director says she beefed up the comedy and invited the actors to add their own zaniness to the equation.

With a cast of 52 teens, ages 12 to 19, “you can imagine the madcap hijinks,” she says.

Now 27, McCandless’ first choreographed “Once Upon a Mattress” when she was just 14 years old and a member of a local theater group.

She's always loved the show, she says, but appreciates the opportunity to re-envision it all these years later.

“I’ve been able to lean into my own personal sense of humor,” she says.

Besides infusing fresh energy, she re-imagined the show as a family-friendly fairy tale.

Prince Dauntless (Ben Franklin) wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses.

One stormy night, a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle. Princess Winnifred (Annie Craven) claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother, Queen Aggravain (Alaya Metwally), decides to test their unwitting guest by placing a pea in the bed covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning, she tells her hosts that she had a sleepless night. She was kept awake by something hard in the bed that she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding.

Before the two are married and live happily ever after, Princess Winnifred also comes under the scrutiny of the prince’s father, King Pantomus (Jackson Werner), Lady Larken (Aubrey Campbell), Sir Harry (Holden Jones), The Ministrel (Naomi Medley), The Jester (Maddie Day) and The Wizard (Grace Mehl).

In addition to their characters’ side-splitting shenanigans, this youthful “Once Upon a Mattress” cast is having fun with the show’s familiar score that takes turns at raucous and romantic, McCandless says.

The large-scale, high-energy production showcases the talents of aspiring young actors who have traveled from every nook and cranny of the Rogue Valley, McCandless adds.

Set designer is Doug Ham, costume design is by Sue Quackenbush and lighting design is by Brad Nelson.

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

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