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North Shore Light Opera Society getting up to all kinds of trouble

Organization celebrating its 70th anniversary with Once Upon a Mattress
Light Opera
Adrian Duncan, as King Sextimus, and Joan Koebel, as Queen Aggravain, are featured performers in the North Shore Light Opera Society’s Once Upon A Mattress.

The North Shore Light Opera Society presents Once Upon a Mattress, showing at Presentation House Theatre, 333 Chesterfield Ave., North Vancouver, May 16-18, 23-25 at 8 p.m. and May 19 and 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $20-$30.

Like any decent prince, he was in search of a princess.

But it couldn’t be any princess, oh no – she had to be a very good princess, the best, a truly real princess, and she had to be sensitive. The prince believed he had found the right woman. But how to be sure?

In one of literature’s more unorthodox examples of potential in-laws wreaking havoc upon a would-be daughter-in-law, the queen ventured to test how truly sensitive the princess was by placing a single pea among a stack of 20 mattresses which the young woman was compelled to sleep upon.

The next morning the princess was asked how she had slept. If she had slept badly due to the pea’s intrusion upon her billowy slumber – and had the wherewithal to know that something was afoot – then truly she possessed the sensitivity so coveted by the prince and his mother.

Magical and otherworldly episodes like this, inspired and adapted from the literary fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, are combined with the high gloss sheen of musical theatre in Once Upon a Mattress, a musical comedy which starts its run at Presentation House Theatre next week.

The musical, produced by the North Shore Light Opera Society, is described as a more mature version of The Princess and the Pea, according to director Deanna Overland.

“In Once Upon a Mattress, he is looking for a princess but his mother has thwarted him at every cost because she just does not want him to grow up so she emasculates him entirely by keeping him at a very young age,” says Overland. “But he meets Fred (Princess Winnifred) who is the first woman to awaken him and make him truly feel like a man.”

When Winnifred arrives on the scene and interacts with Prince Dauntless she “doesn’t care what the queen thinks” and she’s “there to just be herself,” says Overland, who adds that while the show is mainly an escapist piece meant to be a “good-rollicking time,” the musical does profess the idea that “princesses come in all shapes and sizes.”

“They should be allowed to be who they are,” she says.

Boasting a high-energy cast of more than 20 players, the musical first opened off-Broadway in 1959, before a series of showings on Broadway proper, as well as television adaptations starring Carol Burnett, catapulted the show to dizzying heights of popularity which have kept it enduring as a staple among high school drama programs, community theatres and beyond for decades.

The cast of characters littered throughout the fictional medieval kingdom also include the menacing Queen Aggravain and the naughty and mute King Sextimus.

“The King and the Jester and the Minstrel get up to a lot of trouble together. … They’re a fun lighthearted threesome,” says Overland, adding that much of the comedic weight comes from the imposition decreed by the queen early on that no one is allowed to marry in the kingdom until Prince Dauntless has been wed.

Audiences will be sucked in by the show’s dazzling musical numbers, according to Overland, which include the show-stopper “Shy,” which Princess Winnifred sings to Dauntless in a bid to win his affections. It works.

“The female protagonist is not your typical ingénue,” says Overland. “She’s feisty and she’s outspoken and she’s strong-minded and strong-bodied and doesn’t really care what anybody else things of her. She’s such a unique character.”