"Once Upon a Mattress" is a comical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. Both tales follow a prince who is having difficulty in finding a royal wife. The play begins by introducing King Sextimus, who is unable to speak due to a most unusual and unpleasant curse. His less-than-charitable wife, Queen Aggravain, has usurped control not only of the kingdom but also of the marital status of everyone in the kingdom. She has decreed that only the princess who can pass a test she personally designs may marry her son, Prince Dauntless. And no one else may marry until he does. She decides to test one young woman's royal blood by placing a single pea under 20 mattresses, claiming that a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea.
Written by Marshall Barer and Mary Rodgers – daughter of Broadway composer Richard Rodgers – "Once Upon a Mattress" was originally a one-act play for an arts camp for adults. The show was so well-received that it was expanded into a full-length musical, premiering in New York City on May 11, 1959.
The first production marked the Broadway debut of stage and TV legend Carol Burnett, who originated the role of Princess Winnifred. Jane White played the role of Queen Aggravain, becoming the first African-American actress to portray a white character on the Broadway stage. Both the 1964 and 1972 television adaptations featured Burnett and White. The third TV version, which aired in 2005, starred Carol Burnett again but this time in the role of Queen Aggravain. A 1996 Broadway revival starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Jane Krakowski was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
The play is directed by Whitworth Professor of Theatre Rick Hornor, '70, with musical direction by Scott Miller, assistant professor of music. Whitworth dance instructor Karla Parbon, '00, and Jessica Liles, '10, designed the choreography.
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Jennifer Toulouse-Lee, theatre department program assistant, Whitworth University, (509) 777-3707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703, or email@example.com.