Kent County Theatre Guild’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ a fanciful fairy tale

Matt Gray, of Magnolia, is The Minstrel and Kellie Ford, of Clayton, is Lady Larken in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” The play starts July 17 and runs for the following two weekends.  (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Matt Gray, of Magnolia, is The Minstrel and Kellie Ford, of Clayton, is Lady Larken in the Kent County Theatre Guild’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” The play starts July 17 and runs for the following two weekends. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Director John Muller can tell you right off the bat why he wanted to work on “Once Upon a Mattress” at the Kent County Theatre Guild this summer.

“That’s an easy question. This was the very first show I was ever in and I’ve always wanted to direct it,” he said.

The musical, which opens July 17, is a comical take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.”

“It’s got something for everyone in the sense that there’s a lot of jokes and almost slapstick that kids will enjoy … there’s also some subtle humor that the adults will really get a lot out of,” said Stephen Davis, who plays knight Sir Harry.

“It’s something for everyone. No matter who comes, there’s something they can enjoy and take home with them.”

Mr. Muller said after he’s done with the show, he’s going to take a break from community theater for the rest of the year.

“Once Upon a Mattress” is a fitting last show, though.

From left, Pam Clukey, as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, interacts with her love Prince Dauntless, played by Dan Guidice, and Diane Walls, as the prince’s mother Queen Aggravain, in a scene from “Once Upon a Mattress”.

From left, Pam Clukey, as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, interacts with her love Prince Dauntless, played by Dan Guidice, and Diane Walls, as the prince’s mother Queen Aggravain, in a scene from “Once Upon a Mattress”.

For the production, Mr. Muller borrowed elements — like the princess’s bed — from the 1989 show he acted in back in high school in up-state New York.

He was a band kid, he said, but his friend roped him into volunteering as stage manager. Two weeks before the show opened, the guy playing Sir Harry quit.

“The director said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to play him,’” Mr. Muller said.

“I had to learn the part in two weeks. And I was hooked.”

Set in 15th-century Europe, a fictional medieval kingdom is ruled by the devious Queen Aggravain and the mute King Sextimus the Silent. King Sextimus suffers from a curse that can only be reversed “when the mouse devours the hawk.”

As the show opens, their son, Prince Dauntless the Drab, is looking for a wife. But every petitioning princess is sent away after failing an unfair test devised by the queen.

The 12th princess, for instance, is quizzed: “What was the middle name of the daughter-in-law of the best friend of the blacksmith who forged the sword that killed the Beast?”

In the meantime, Lady Larken and Sir Harry are getting desperate for Prince Dauntless to get married.

The queen has levied an unjust law: “Throughout the land no one may wed, ‘till Dauntless shares his wedding bed”; but Lady Larken and Sir Harry will have a baby soon whether a princess turns up or not.

Enter the 13th princess, Winifred the Woebegone, who was so eager to arrive that she swam across the castle moat. Genuine and unrefined, the princess from the swamplands is the only one who will stand up to Queen Aggravain.

“I love that Fred, short for Winifred, is not a typical princess. She’s not a glamorous princess,” said Diane Walls, who plays the queen.

“She’s a strong, confident woman who’s willing to swim the moat and not afraid of the queen.”

Carried on by a wave of hummable songs and slapstick shenanigans, in the end, love conquers all.

“The great thing about it is there’s all these complicated character connections but it’s very simple in the way it’s presented. You get all of that just at

Jose Bernard, of Dover, as Sir Studley, embraces his real-life wife Laini Bernard, who plays Lady Beatrice, at the Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

Jose Bernard, of Dover, as Sir Studley, embraces his real-life wife Laini Bernard, who plays Lady Beatrice, at the Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

face value and you don’t have to think too much about it,” said Dan Guidice, who plays Prince Dauntless.

“It’s just an entertaining piece of theater.”

When “Once Upon a Mattress” opened in 1959, it marked the Broadway debut of Carol Burnett, who played Princess Winnifred. The musical received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical as well as a Best Leading Actress nomination for Ms. Burnett.

Ms. Burnett later starred in three television adaptions of the show — in 1964 and 1972 as Princess Winifred and in 2005 as Queen Aggravain.

“The show is intimate,” said Thom Harris, who plays the jester.

“The whole idea, even though it’s a big cast, the whole idea is it’s revolving around two people and that’s dear old Dauntless and dear old Fred and how they interact with the other main person in it, the queen, and the person who’s basically going through the thing silently, the dear king, who’s trying to direct stuff.”

The show also stars Matthew Gray as The Minstrel, John Levine as The Wizard, Kellie Ford as Lady Larken, Paul Janiga as King Sextimus the Silent and Pamela Clukey as Princess Winnifred.

The music and lyrics are by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer and the book is by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer.

“Once Upon a Mattress” and runs through Aug. 1 at the Patchwork Playhouse, 140 Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee July 26 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20 (general), $18 (military/student/senior) or $10 (children 12 and under). They’re available online at www.kctg.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.