Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Fun Home / Once Upon a Mattress
National Tour / Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater
Review by David Edward Hughes


The Cast of Fun Home
Photo by Joan Marcus
For the next few weeks you can see two great productions of worthy musicals, one in the heart of downtown Seattle which is the Seattle stop for the first national tour of a powerful recent Tony Award winning musical, Fun Home, and one a 45-minute drive east from downtown in Fall City (Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater), which brings back a now neglected gem that sky-rocketed Carol Burnett to a fairy-tale come true career, Once Upon A Mattress.

Fun Home is a fresh and emotionally walloping musical based on cult favorite comic artist Alison Bechdel's musical memoir with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and sweeping music by Jeanine Tesori. It is marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books. It is a darkly funny family tale, which grows less funny and more desperate as a grown Alison retraces her steps back to her childhood and adolescence. We meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter.

Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic and redemptive.

The tour cast is as strong, if not in some ways better than the original Broadway cast, with Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, and Carly Gold brilliant as the eye of this emotional tale as the young adult, adolescent, and child versions of Alison, respectively. The coltish and quirky Corrigan soars through her brilliant solo "Changing My Major," which is as close as we will ever get to hearing a girl named "Toni" sing about her love for a girl named Maria. Gold is a tiny, old soul child actress, and she nails little Alison's paean to her first female crush, with the show's hit number "Ring of Keys."

Shindle is gripping, handicapped a bit by the comparative weakness of the intended eleven o' clock number "Telephone Wire" as she recalls her late father's last moments. As Bruce Bechdel, Robert Petkoff is riveting and brings all the empathy he can muster to his cold-fish, child predator character, though oddly he too gets musical and lyrical short shrift with his solo "Edges of the World," but he gives it the fervor owed to a better number, nonetheless. For me, the best number in the show and the most riveting and achingly melancholy, "Days and Days and Days," sung almost out of nowhere by Alison's afterthought of a mother Helen, is vividly enacted and limpidly sung by Susan Moniz, who is as different, yet as right for the role as its Broadway originator Judy Kuhn or her mid-run replacement Rebecca Luker.

Smaller character arcs are ably filled by Susan Moniz as Joan (she who becomes Alison's new major) and the versatile and handsome Robert Hager as a succession of the young adults and adolescents Mr. Bechdel picks up in his ramblings, nocturnal and otherwise. The child actors who play the now-you-see-them, later-you-don't siblings of young Alison are hilarious and naturals, as kids playing kids usually are. There is no real dance in the show, but choreographer Danny Mefford helps the cast cut a rug in a hilarious fantasy Patridge Family send up, while musical director Micah Young keeps the cast at a perfect pitch. No garbled Matilda is this show. And while all the tech credits are super, the stand out is the clever and esoteric scenic design of David Zinn, who also crafted the utterly apt '70s costumes.

Fun Home may not be a laugh riot, if that is what you go in expecting, but it is without a doubt top level Broadway craftsmanship.

Fun Home runs through July 30, 2017 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. For more info go to www.5thavenuetheatre.org. For more information on the tour, visit funhomebroadway.com/tour.php.


Rachel Wilke and James Webster
Photo by Buddy Todd
They have an opening for a princess at Fall City's Snoqualmie Forest Theater in a fresh, funny, fast-paced Once Upon A Mattress. And in the central role of Princess Winifred the Woebegone, a great comic role patented by Carol Burnett and later Tracy Ullman (ignoring the miscast revival with Sarah Jessica Parker), a virtual unknown (but not for long) Taylor Peters leaves Burnett behind, and forges her own comedic assault on the surprisingly non-dated riff on the old "Princess and the Pea" fairytale as adapted with ribald tongue in cheek (and other orifices) by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer. The marvelous Mary Rodgers' (daughter of that Rodgers who wrote with Hammerstein) music and still sharp and funny lyrics by Barer keep the show afloat content wise, but it is the savvy, sassy and slick direction and simple yet satisfying choreography by new Seattle boy wonder director Andrew Coopman, and his perfect-fit all around casting choices that make the midsummer night at the outdoor stag such a treat.

The aforementioned Ms. Peters is droll as she casually advises the royal court that she "swam the moat" to get to the fairytale castle for an audition to become Mrs. Prince Dauntless. She has a mellower belt than the Burnett variety but makes each of her songs, from the bombastic "Shy" to the all stops out "Happily Ever After," a showstopper. Coopman has bestowed the perfect Prince Dauntless upon this Winnifred, or Fred as she tells people to use as her nickname. Casting the sturdy looking Nick Hyett Schnell as the mama's boy Prince Dauntless the Drab is a gamble that pays off big. Schnell and Peters are an odd but endearing couple, making one wish they had a duet together (a rare miscalculation in such an otherwise well-constructed show).

As smother-mother Queen Aggravain, Rachel Wilkie radiates regal evil with an easy flair, as if she is just waiting to star in Maleficent the Musical, and her husband Alan Wilkie as her royal spouse King Sextimus is obviously primed to play Harpo Marx in the event someone exhumes Minnie's Boys. He and Hyett-Schnell share the charming half-mimed "Man to Man Talk" in which the king grooms Dauntless for future royal husbandry. The semi-romantic, still zany comic relief is handily provided by handsome and full-voiced Patrick Ostrander as the dumb as a brick Sir Harry, and Nikki Delmarter gives a nice, slightly bitchy edge to the role of his bun in the oven holder, Lady Larkin. The pair have two musically lovely and lyrically zany songs "In A Little While" and "Yesterday I Loved You," in which the melodies might have well come from papa Richard Rodgers. Ostrander and Delmarter have a winsome and warm way with them as well.

The other standouts in an appealing cast are James Webster as a flamboyant and wily Wizard who cuddles up to the Queen, and blithe charmer Taylor Davis as the impish Jester, with an old time vaudevillian "Very Soft Shoes" number right before the end that is the definition of 11 o'clock showstopper.

Musical director John Kelleher is responsible for the expert cast vocals and seamless coordination between singers and the click-track pre-recorded accompaniment.

In general, the big difference between this production of Once Upon A Mattress and a first-class staging at one of the in-city musical theatre companies is the drive out. And in summer weather, a leisurely and outdoor locale are a distinct plus. Even the mosquitoes seemed to be buzzing a happy tune!

Once Upon A Mattress runs through August 13, 2017, at Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater, Fall City WA. For tickets and more go to www.foresttheater.org.


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