The musical "Once Upon a Mattress" takes you back in time — not to 1428, when it's set, but to the Golden Age of Broadway, when it was written.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea," the show debuted in 1959, when some zippy songs, a script with a couple of dozen good jokes and a charismatic star guaranteed a long run. No one dies of complications of AIDS in "Mattress," or accidentally eats their loved one in a meat pie — one sign that a lot has changed since the simpler era when "Mattress" was created.
There's something pleasingly old-fashioned about the show, which spoofs its fairy tale origins and was even a little behind the times when it debuted. Composer Mary Rodgers' father, Richard, had been behind shows such as "Oklahoma," which fully integrated the book, songs and dance, but "Mattress" is in the retro style of musical, which pauses occasionally for a song that doesn't move the plot forward at all. Honestly, there isn't much plot to pause in this Old Log Theatre show.
Amanda Mai is aces as Winnifred, a brash princess summoned as a possible suitor for Prince Dauntless the Drab (Neal Beckman). Dauntless' mother, Queen Aggravain (Melanie Wehrmacher), doesn't think anyone is good enough for him so she devises impossible quizzes for potential suitors (shades of the tragic opera "Turandot" there, although no one gets murdered or even roughed up in "Mattress"). If Winnifred can detect the pea placed at the bottom of a stack of 20 mattresses on which she's trying to sleep, she wins Dauntless.
One question no one bothers to ask is why vibrant Winnifred wants to marry a guy whose named includes the word "drab," especially since Beckman's amusing, committed performance is so childlike that there's a creepy note to his pairing with assured Mai. It's tough to imagine any mattress action with this prince but Mai makes her character so lively, bright and assertive that we assume Winnifred knows the right self-help book to mold her frog — er, prince — into a man.
One reason that works is that, oddly, "Mattress" cares more about its supporting characters than its leads. There are half a dozen terrific smaller parts, with courtiers Sir Harry (Jordan Oxborough) and Lady Larken (Sara Sawyer) to supply the love. In general, folks who are used to Stephen Sondheim or "Book of Mormon" may be surprised by how happy "Mattress" is to just be genial, low-stakes entertainment.
Other than a pretty pile of mattresses that leans into the show's '50s orange-and-turquoise palette, this is not a great looking production. And a few performances are too broad. But director Garry Lennon supplies "Mattress" with many inventive details — a nod to "Les Miserables" here, a between-acts snippet of the White Stripes-played-as-if-by-court-musicians there — to make the show, silly, tuneful fun.
'Once Upon a Mattress'
Who: Book by Marshall Barer, Dean Fuller and Jay Thompson. Music by Mary Rodgers. Directed by Garry Lennon.
When: 1 p.m. Thu., 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Jan. 7.
Where: Old Log, 5185 Meadville St., Excelsior.
Tickets: $30-$40, 952-474-5951 or oldlog.com.