It was sixty minutes long, it was two hours long. It was Riverdale, it was Brooklyn. It was the height of summer, it was the depth of autumn. It was squeaky clean, it was slightly naughty. It had a cast of talented kids, it had an ensemble of enthusiastic grown-ups…
In August, I had the pleasure of seeing the Summer Stage production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” More than just a fun afternoon at the theatre, this was a reconnaissance mission: I would soon be trading in my chaps and cowboy boots from Riverdale Rep’s “Curtains” for tights and doublets in a full-length production of “Mattress,” and I wanted to get some idea of what this musical fractured fairy tale was all about.
Now that I’m in the throes of rehearsals for “Once Upon a Mattress” at The Heights Players in Brooklyn, I’m even more impressed with what a great job the campers did with the show. The rangy songs have lots of tricky rhythms and irregular melodic lines, and are deceptively difficult, whether you’re 7 or pushing 37.
These days, a lot of companies that license musicals have two versions of some of their most popular shows: the traditional full-length version, as well as truncated scripts especially adapted performance by elementary school thespians. For example, the Junior Rising Stars will soon be performing a one-hour version of “Oklahoma,” and the Summer Stage kids took the stage with a one-hour version of “Once Upon a Mattress.”
Even though the two versions of the “Mattress” – the original full-length musical I’m doing in Brooklyn and the shorter version the camp kids did – are fundamentally similar, there are some major differences between the two. First of all, the kids’ show eliminated plot points and some dialogue that might be considered inappropriate for young actors (which is all for the better: the prospect of ten-year-old actors discussing their characters’ unplanned pregnancy rates pretty highly on the ick-o-meter). There’s also a fair amount of innuendo in the full-length version that’s absent in the kids’ script. Nothing major, but enough to make the difference between a G-rated straight-up fairy tale and a PG-rated satire.
Also, the kids’ version cut some dance music, as well as several charming songs that are more-of-less incidental to the plot (“Very Soft Shoes,” “Normandy,” “In a Little While,” and the birds-and-the-bees chat, “Man to Man Talk.” There we go again with the innuendo…)
In addition, a few of the songs were significantly abridged for the kids’ version of “Mattress.” (As Prince Dauntless, I’m a little jealous that Shiv Pai, who played the role this summer, only had to memorize three verses of “Song of Love,” while I have to remember all seven!)
Should you wish to compare the two versions for yourself, by all means hop the 1, then the 2/3 and come on down to Brooklyn Heights! “Once Upon a Mattress” will be playing from October 5 through 21st at The Heights Players at 26 Willow Street. For tickets, visit www.HeightsPlayers.org or call 718-237-2752.
As much as I’m enjoying my time with The Heights Players, and have learned a great deal (paramount among them: a well-placed crown masks a multitude of hairline imperfections), I’m really looking forward to returning to my “home” theatre, and reuniting with my Riverdale Rep friends as I join the casts of “City of Angels” and “Company” later this season.
PATRICK DWYER Favorite roles include Bobby in CURTAINS (Riverdale Rep) and a slightly fictionalized version of himself in TEN REASONS WHY I AM GOING TO HELL (Duplex Cabaret Theatre), which he also wrote (two MAC Award nominations). Other songwriting credits include IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE (Off-Broadway, national tour), MAN IN THE MOON (children’s album), and I CAN’T WAIT: THE SONGS OF PATRICK DWYER. Upcoming: Riverdale Rep’s CITY OF ANGELS and COMPANY, and a new one-man show at the Duplex this winter.