Prince Dauntless, a kind-but-slow-witted mama’s boy, must find a princess to wed. His mother, Queen Aggravain, is extremely picky — no one is good enough for her son. So, to keep all the potential brides away from Dauntless, she devises a ridiculous (and impossible-to-pass) test of princess-level delicacy.
This is the premise of Tryon Little Theater’s newest production, Once Upon a Mattress. This family-friendly fairy tale is a comedic retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic, The Princess and the Pea. The play, which opens Thursday, Feb. 18, subverts the stereotypes of heroic lords and dainty ladies that have been cropping up in fairy tales since the Middle Ages.
On the Tryon Little Theater stage, all is going according to the queen’s plan until the arrival of Princess Winifred, aka Fred. “That princess is not a prissy sweet blonde,” says director Debbie Craig-Archer. “When she shows up, she swam the moat to get there.”
Craig-Archer is a veteran of the Western North Carolina theater scene. Her directing credits include The Sound of Music, Nunsense I & II, and most recently, she brought the musical Big River to the Tryon Little Theater stage. She has worked with Tryon Little Theater for six years, acting and directing in eight productions.
Once Upon a Mattress first opened off-Broadway in 1959 and has been nominated for several Tony Awards. Since its premiere, the play has been staged on and off Broadway (launching the career of Carol Burnett) and translated to both the big and small screens. Its upbeat and comical musical numbers include “We Have an Opening for a Princess,” “The Minstrel, the Jester and I” and “Yesterday I Loved You.”
For the Tryon Little Theater performance, the lead roles of Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, Queen Aggravain and Prince Dauntless will be filled by Sandra Chrysler, Jackie Lewis and Bill Wuehrmann, respectively. The live music will be directed by Tryon United Methodist Church music director Pam McNeil, who also plays piano for the show. “People are coming out of the woodwork who are so talented,” says Craig-Archer. “There are really strong voices in this production.”
In the past, Tryon Little Theater has staged big musicals at Tryon Fine Arts Center, but this year’s entire season will be staged at the theater company’s own workshop, a metal building that was once an auto-parts store. Following extensive renovations, the building has been transformed into a black-box theater with risers, stage lights and a stage area, as well as prop and tool rooms hidden in the wings. “We’ve done a lot of work with it,” says Craig-Archer.
The company has also done a lot of work on its new show. Not only is this Tryon Little Theater production family-friendly, it’s a family affair. “We have a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter who are all in the show together,” says Craig-Archer. “We have a dad — he plays the king — and his two daughters are in it as well, and we have a brother-and-sister duo. I think it’s kind of cool we have so many families doing this.”
There are challenges when it comes to working with a cast full of kin. “If we have rehearsal and one of them is gone, they’re pretty much all gone,” says Craig-Archer. On the other hand, family members help each other with lines and learning choreography. “I always did theater with my parents,” says Craig-Archer, “so it has a special place in my heart.”
WHAT: Once Upon a Mattress
WHERE: Tryon Little Theater, 516 S. Trade St., Tryon. tltinfo.org
WHEN: Feb. 18-21 and 25-28. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. $22 adults/$11 children