When, in 1959, 26-year-old Carol Burnett burst into prominence at the East Village’s Phoenix Theater as Winnifred the Woebegone in Once Upon a Mattress, and when, for television in 2005, Burnett took on the role of the imperious Queen Aggravain, who’d have guessed that in 2015 the brilliant, raucous Jackie Hoffman would, at age 55, be playing the intrepid princess, or that the monstrous queen mother would be impersonated by John Epperson, better known locally as Lypsinka and only occasionally camping it up across the fourth wall?
Lypsinka received the blessing of composer Mary Rodgers to play the glamorous monarch who tortures Hoffman, and the Transport Group’s production is delightful, timely, and utterly winning. (Also very loud.) Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea,” Mattress itself is lumpy and overlong; the show was expanded for Broadway, and several charming musical numbers feel tacked on. But under Jack Cummings’s sly direction, it’s smartly designed and gorgeously dressed (by Sandra Goldmark and Kathryn Rohe, respectively); the entire cast excels, as does Matt Castle’s twelve-piece pit orchestra.
“Immigrants,” observes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton uptown at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, “we get the job done.” Here too. “I swam the moat,” Hoffman, the dripping swamp thing from over the mountains, nonchalantly informs the bewildered, desperate courtiers. She swam the moat! She wins the prince! It’s her world.
Once Upon a Mattress
Music by Mary Rodgers; lyrics by Marshall Barer
Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street