Freilich debut royally funny at Drury Lane
Once Upon A Mattress at the Drury Lane Oak Brook
Reviewed By Don Snider for the Star Newspapers
It takes a heckuva comedian to steal a show with a regional theater all-star cast of Paula Scrofano, Dale Benson, John Reeger, Sean Fortunato, Bernie Yvon and Brian Herriott.
But Kristen Freilich, who grew up in Palos Heights, does just that in "Once Upon a Mattress," directed by Ray Frewen and now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through Dec. 18.
Freilich plays Winnifred the Woebegone — the Princess — in the comedy that spoofs the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea."
It's a role originated on stage by a then-relatively unknown Carol Burnett in 1959, and recently played by Sarah Jessica Parker in a made-for-TV film.
Freilich makes her Drury Lane Oakbrook debut as a desperate princess looking for a prince.
She has performed in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's "Princess and the Pea" — but in the more serious role as the Queen. Freilich also has dabbled in jazz and as a children's play author.
In "Once Upon a Mattress," Freilich gets to really show off her Carol Burnett-style physical comedy skills.
We first see her emerging, soaking wet and bedraggled, out of the castle moat.
She's "applying" to marry the Prince, to the shock of the Queen, who will only refer to Winnifred disdainfully as "that moat-swimmer."
As the story has unfolded, Queen Aggravain (Scrofano) has an ineffectual mute husband, King Sextimus, and wants to keep her son — aptly dubbed Prince Dautless the Drab — to herself.
So the queen rules he cannot marry unless the girl meets her standards, which are virtually impossible.
In the original fairy tale, it's the dashing prince who comes up with the unusual test to establish if Winnifred is indeed a princess.
She has to sleep on a bed of 20 mattresses with a tiny pea at the very bottom. If she is so sensitive that she can detect the pea, she must be for real.
But "Once Upon a Mattress" is one of those fractured fairy tales that spoofs everything.
The queen — with the versatile Scrofano turning to her comedic side — makes a hilarious conniving parent.
And Benson complements her supremely. He usually draws laughs just by opening his mouth. Here, Benson is a riot merely playing a mute.
Reeger as the Wizard, Fortunato as the Prince, Yvon as the Jester and Herriott as Sir Harry also are hilarious.
Yvon gives the comedy its lightest musical touch with a terrific soft shoe dance number.
Herriott hams it up (think Gaston, from "Beauty and the Beast") in the story's subplot. Sir Harry, it seems, has a pregnant girlfriend, Lady Larkin.
So Sir Harry needs to find the Prince a Princess so he and Lady Larkin can get married too.
Pegah Kadkhodaian, plays a real charmer in Lady Larkin in her Drury Lane debut.
Sir Harry journeys over the mountains and into the swamps and brings back the unlikely Princess Winnifred.
Freilich as Winnifred has a powerhouse voice to go with her screwball side and belts out a terrific "Happily Ever After."
And does it all indeed end "happily ever after"?
Hey, this is a fairy tale, so there are no surprises here.
All's well that ends well.
Except for the Queen.