note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey
If ever a show were begging for its gender to be bent, it’s ONCE UPON A MATRESS. With its butch little heroine besting the wimpy competition for the heart of an uninspired “drab” prince (a la “The Princess and the Pea) it’s a stroke of genius to cast a man as Fred (short for Winnifred). Move over Ryan Landry. Animus knows how to present fabulous, fable-icious drag.
Brent Reno goes from being one of my favorite leading men (In the Publick Theatre’s outdoor PIRATES OF PENZANCE he scrambled up the neighboring trees!) to being one of my favorite leading ladies! In blue glitter eye shadow and eyelashes the size of egrets, Reno gives a performance reminiscent of Jack Lemmon in SOME LIKE IT HOT. He even gets a Lemmon moment pulling off his hot pink wig.
Josie Bray’s hilarious choreography is full of puns, pranks and frenetic energy. Erin Tchoukaleff as Lady Larkin even dances her lyrics (if such a thing is possible) in wonderfully daffy shenanigans with her truelove Sir Harry (Areil Heller resplendent in macho bravado). He dips Larkin just like Fred dipped Ginger, except for the noogies!
Todd Sandstrom is the very soul of “confused adolescence” as the Prince. It turns out he’s not “dull,” he’s just not attracted to women. Kate deLima brings down the house as the nasty, all powerful Queen, complete with a tiny retinue comprised of one unctuous toady, played to exasperating perfection by Ray O’Hare.
Stefanie Tovar and Shonna McEachern get to explode some stereotypes, too, as more than “just friends” at court. Mala Bhattacharya shakes a mean tail feather as a ruffled nightingale and the entire cast sing, dance and stomp up a storm. Animus accomplishes all this mayhem, I should point out, without altering the text! Director John Ambrosino’s ingenious conceit wears a bit thin toward the very end, in the soft shoe number. (If they had been wearing rubbers on their feet like Gene Kelley dancing in the rain, then we might have gotten the joke, if there was one.) Music director Gary Durham’s combo makes Mary Rogers’ score twinkle. Bravo Animus. Now can you do something naughty for a show like1776?