By Tulis McCall

Once Upon A Mattress at Encores! is a ton and a half of pure joy.  And Sutton Foster is at the center of it, using her crystal voice. lungs of iron, comedic timing.  Foster is a combination of Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball.  In addition, her physical prowess might qualify her for any number of Olympic Events starting with Moat Swimming.

This is not to say Foster shines in a dark sky.  The cast is spectacular in every way.  J. Harrison Ghee begins the tale as the Jester who is both glamorous, well tuned, and a performer who remembers that most of the audience is in the balcony.  Most actors neglect this inclusion and sing to the back of the orchestra.

Encores! Once Upon a Mattress; Photo by Joan Marcus

The outcome of the tale is a foregone conclusion so we are invited along to enjoy the retelling.  And a fine retelling it is.

Once upon a time in one of those non existent lands somewhere in the 15th century.  There was a helicopter queen Aggravain (Harriet Harris) whose son, Prince Dauntless (Michael Urie), is a simple – very simple – man looking for a bride.  If, however, he finds one, the Queen will be demoted to not-so-powerful.  Hence the tests that she sets before the applicants are impossible to  pass.  Until Princess Winifred (Sutton Foster) shows up from the bog-lands of the North.  This princess knows nothing about limitations or propriety.  Hence swimming the moat and sharing the water with leeches.

Step by step Winnifred (please call her Fred) wades through the obstacles with enthusiasm and one by one everyone in the kingdom falls in love with her.  An additional reason they all want the best for her is that until the Prince weds no one weds.  Not no-how not no-body.   Believe me when I tell you this kingdom is filled with unsatisfied longing – and the one that has ben satisfied has resulted in an unexpected pregnancy of Lady Larkin (Nikki Renée Daniels)   who was “watching the sunset”  with the dim but darling Sir Harry (Cheyenne Jackson).  Ergo the heat is on and SOMEONE (Harry) needs to find a princess pronto.   Which he does.

Eventually Fred’s test leads to the pea under 20 mattresses (oddly placed just outside the pile on the corner of the bed frame).  Her supporters come to the rescue to sabotage the test.  Fred wins.  Dauntless stands up to his mother.  The King (David Patrick Kelly) gets his voice and life pretty much IS happily-ever-after.

Encores! Once Upon a Mattress; Photo by Joan Marcus

Along the way we are treated to an extraordinary onstage orchestra (nice touch having the second act opening with them standing for applause) led by Mary-Mitchell Campbell that shows off Mary Rodgers music in its best light.  The lines are crisp.  Foster tosses off one-liners at Gatling gun speed and is so funny that several actors come close to breaking.  The dimwits shine.  Romance is in bloom.   And people in the audience are laughing so hard they are barking.

This is a spectacular production that will lift your spirits no matter the cold, windy, grey weather.  (Speaking of grey we sat in back of Joel Grey and his daughter Jennifer – laughing along with all of us).  Few things beat watching a Broadway legend appreciating a show.

GET THEE TO THIS SHOW.  Through February 4th at City Center.  There are still a few seats left and can be purchased HERE

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS – Music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and a book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Barer. Featuring  a new concert adaptation by Amy Sherman- Palladino. Directed Lear deBessonet. Choreography by Lorin Latarro and music direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

WITH Sutton Foster as Princess Winnifred, Harriet Harris as Queen Aggravain.  Nikki Renée Daniels as Lady Larken, J. Harrison Ghee as Jester, Cheyenne Jackson as Sir Harry, Francis Jue as Wizard, David Patrick Kelly as Kng Sextimus the Silent, and Michael Urie as Prince Dauntless.

The ensemble includes Shavey Brown, DeMarius R. Copes, Kaleigh Cronin, Cicily Daniels, Ben Davis, Ta’Nika Gibson, Gaelen Gilliland, Jaquez, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Paul Kreppel, Amanda LaMotte, Abby Matsusaka, Adam Roberts, Ryan Worsing, Kristin Yancy, and Richard Riaz Yoder.