Once Upon a Mattress. Twenty Mattresses, Actually.

Posted: September 20, 2015 by patricksponaugle in Arts, Music, Opinion
Tags: , ,


This weekend, I took the family to see Once Upon a Mattress, being performed at the Bowie Playhouse.

Bowie Playhouse? Fine. Here’s the address.

16500 White Marsh Park Drive
Bowie, MD 20715

You should go see it. IT’S ONLY BEING PERFORMED THROUGH SEPTEMBER 26TH!!! (This might make it difficult for the international community who reads my blog to get tickets and make travel arrangements in time. That’s my bad for not seeing the musical earlier.)

Why did I see this musical?

Full disclosure: my buddy Andy Culhane asked me to. His two sons John and Mike are in the play in significant roles, and I’ve known them both since they were something like zero days old, and now they’re adults, and wow time has flown by.

That might not sound like a compelling case for you to go see the musical. So, I’ll try to make this less about my examination of mortality, and talk about the show.

The Princess and the Pea

Once Upon a Mattress is a comical presentation of the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. If you’re unfamiliar with the specifics, don’t worry, a minstrel will recap it at the beginning of the musical, then the show proceeds to tell a classic “what REALLY happened” type of tale.

It’s great fun. The cast is strong with many standout performances. In particular the not-technically-evil-but-close-enough Queen Aggravain (played by Linda Swann) and the two romantic couples whose relationships drive the story.


It’s a given that the obstacle-laden romance between the robust Princess Winnifred (played by the amazing Meg Nemeth) and her dude-in-distress Prince Dauntless (played by Mike Culhane) is the linchpin for the narrative, but the love story between the lovely but anxious Lady(-In-Waiting) Larken (played by Erin Paluchowski) and the heroic Sir Harry (played by John Culhane) attaches clear dramatic stakes to the story, giving the audience more investment than just rooting for Dauntless and Fred to work out, or more than just rooting against the Queen’s domineering nature to fail.

If you’re expecting me to tell you what the the nature of those dramatic stakes are, sorry. Go see the musical.

Ye Olde Nineteen-Fifties…

I mentioned that the performance of the cast is strong, and in some ways it elevates the material they’re presenting. Once Upon a Mattress was written in the late 50s (and was the big break for the great Carol Burnett) and although the material is entertaining, there are some corny gags and other material that seem a bit out of place here in the not-as-regressive 21st century.


Sir Harry: Your Majesty, here is this month’s list of sexual harrassment complaints naming your husband.*
Queen Aggravain: Fewer than last month’s? Perhaps he’s not feeling well?*

But Princess Winnifred is a delight, a sharp contrast to the typical Disney princesses who were her contemporaries. Although Winnifred is painfully shy.


Shy in the way avalanches and other forces of nature are shy.

As a princess, she’s far from helpless. She’s focused on  surmounting the challenges of winning Prince Dauntless’ hand in marriage, despite not having assistance from a woman with a wand or seven small determined men on her side.

From her boisterous entrance to her final scene, Meg Nemeth as Princess “Fred” was outstanding. Her participation in the royal ball’s exhausting dance-off was worth the price of admission.

For extensive information involving interviews with the cast and crew, please check out the detailed multi-part coverage from DC Metro Theater Arts.

Tell me if John Culhane’s cast photo doesn’t have him looking like a dead ringer for Richard Madden, Game of Thrones‘ northern king Robb Stark. (Okay, he doesn’t exactly look like a clone of the King of the North, but I’m sticking by my wild statements.)

Technically, there are three performances left, but tonight’s show (at the time of this writing) is sold out, so Friday, September 25th and Saturday, September 26th are the last dates to see the musical.

That is, if you’re in the DC Metro area. Or willing to travel here. And you should!

Hey, my fourteen-year-old daughter enjoyed the show, so there must be something timelessly entertaining about it!

Want tickets? Directions, etc? Go here.

On a side note, this wasn’t the first time I’d seen Once Upon A Mattress. As a young lad, I remembered seeing the 1972 version (there are two other versions) starring Carol Burnett as Princess Winnifred and Bernadette Peters as Lady Larken.

Obviously, enough time had passed that I’d forgotten certain details (or my young brain hadn’t picked up on a lot of what was going on, like the sex ed conversation between the mute King Sextimus and his son Prince Dauntless) so the musical was fresh and surprising.

Or maybe the television version is different? That’s possible, and therefore my memory isn’t actually failing. (I know it is. But I promised no more examinations of my mortality.)

Images were stolen from Andy Culhane’s Facebook page (besides producing the acting powerhouses John and Mike who were so excellent in the musical, Andy got a production credit for his photography of the show, his images were used by the DC Metro Theater Arts coverage. So I’m stealing from the best. Full disclosure, I stole them with his permission.)

I make no claim to the images, but some claim to the text. So there.

* Not actually lines from the play.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved

  1. Way cool. My sons’ acting and my photography have made it into Pat’s blog. We have arrived.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wscottling says:

    Sounds like fun. Alas and alack, MD is a bit of a drive from WA, so I’ll have to pass on it. Sad I am too, because it sounds like fun! I love musicals!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jenna Jones says:

    oh my gosh!!! PLEASE let me add this blog post to our weekly newsletter! It is more fun to read than the 2 reviews we have received! My favorite line, which I want to put in my own FB newsfeed:
    “Shy in the way avalanches and other forces of nature are shy.” Busted out laughing here at my desk over that one!
    P.S. I am the producer of this show, and couldn’t be more proud of it. Glad you enjoyed it so much and wrote this piece. Let me circulate it to our 460 or so folks on our email list!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Incidental Plug: I did most of the photography for the show (and all of the shots you’ve posted), but the head shot of John that you’re referring to was taken by his girlfriend, Sam Halpern. She helped me with the head shots, and did about half of them. John himself did the head shot of his counterpart, Erin Paluchowski. I only mention these as a credit-where-credit-is-due thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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