Most everyone knows the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” Less familiar is the reimagined musical “Once Upon a Mattress,” to be staged Thursday through Sunday by Tulane’s Summer Lyric Theater.
Inspired by the classic story and made popular by the movie starring Carol Burnett, “Once” is a fresh take on what happened with the princess and the pea, and how Princess Winnifred overcame the trials of Queen Aggravain and won the heart of Prince Dauntless.
Directed by Ricky Graham and starring Leslie Claverie as Winnifred, this production of “Once” will delve a bit deeper than most.
“There are lots more ways Ricky Graham is working with characterization, which jump out more,” Claverie said. “This production has bold comedic elements.”
Playing opposite Claverie is Sean Patterson in the role of Prince Dauntless.
“Sean and I have worked (together) a few times in the past,” Claverie said. “He has great and exciting energy. He’s smart, and he’s easy to play off of.”
Along with Claverie and Patterson, the production boasts the talents of such actors as Kevin Murphy (playing the Minstrel/Jester), Ashley Lemmler as the demanding Queen, Michael Sullivan as King Sextimus the Silent and Keith Claverie playing the role of Sir Harry.
The Summer Lyric play also will incorporate the top-notch music expected from the program under the direction of Roger Grodsky.
“Every aspect of the production is handled by a pro,” Graham said. “Anything you could hope for is at your disposal, including a top-notch choreographer (Jauné Buisson), music director, stage manager, set, lighting and costume designer, plus some of the city’s best and funniest talent. And on top of all that, members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit.”
With all the talent, it’s no surprise that this version of “Once” is meant to be daring.
“ ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ has probably been done by every high school or elementary school summer camp in the country,” Graham said, “but it is rare to see the original, very adult version.
“This is a treat because the show has some sly, sexy jokes as well as a great score, which can best be appreciated when it’s played by a full, professional orchestra and sung by a talented, professional cast.”
Graham and Leslie Claverie are no strangers to Summer Lyric, but in some ways, this show is a first for both of them.
For Graham, it’s his first opportunity directing for the program, and for Claverie, it’s a chance to star in a Summer Lyric show.
“The first time I did a Summer Lyric show was 12 years ago in ‘Camelot,’ where I played a Lady of Camelot,” Claverie said. “Compared to ‘Camelot,’ there’s a little more rehearsal time now.”
“I’ve appeared in numerous Summer Lyric productions, but this years marks a dream come true for me because I get to direct,” Graham said.
Claverie said Graham’s direction made the experience a positive one.
“With Ricky Graham, you can’t go wrong,” she said. “He has such a great vision. He’s got amazing energy.”
For Claverie, the character of Princess Winnifred is not only a fun one to play but one she can relate to.
“There’s a song in the production called ‘Shy’ — and (Princess Winnifred) is not shy, but it holds a grain of truth,” Claverie said.
“She loves life and dives right in. She’s gawky, awkward, goofy, and these are things I definitely identify with. She’s your atypical heroine.”
“Once Upon a Mattress” will be staged Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and conclude with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Dixon Hall Performing Art Center on Tulane University’s campus.
Tickets range from $30-$40; call (504) 865-5269 or go online at http://summerlyric.tulane.edu. For information, contact Charlie Farve Hayes at (504) 865-5271.