Twice upon a time: The Butcher takes on two fairy tale musicals

Twice upon a time: The Butcher takes on two fairy tale musicals
John Robert Hoffman

We’re a city of two tales!

Two different fairy tale musicals flitted into the County of Kings last weekend. In Park Slope, the Gallery Players presented “Once Upon a Mattress,” while in Brooklyn Heights, Theater 2020 performed “Into the Woods.” Both shows run through March 17 — but which is the most magical show?

“Once Upon a Mattress” is a downy bit of fluff. Based on “The Princess and the Pea,” it offers a bright and charming story about a gung-ho princess who rescues a prince with the power of spunk and indefatigable dancing.

This production makes the kingdom a primary-colored playground, with gay and straight couples among the court color-coordinated for convenience, and the big dance scene of “the Spanish Panic,” which uses every character — and every popular dance move of the last 40 years — is terrifically fun. In the role of Princess Winnifred, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld has enormous appeal, and she can belt out a tune with the best when she needs too — but in too many songs, I strained to hear the lyrics.

This production tries to update the frankly dicey gender politics of the script, which dates from 1959, but there’s only so far it can go, and remnants of the lascivious original — like the king “groping his way in the dark” are left to flounder. And a few scenes felt unmotivated, and slowed down the fun, like the five minutes of quiet stomping at the top of the second act, and a soft shoe that comes from nowhere.

In contrast, “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and a half-dozen other Grimm fairy tales, is decidedly darker and more intimate, with a much smaller cast and just a piano to provide the music.

Producer and director David Fuller sets the play in a refugee camp “somewhere in the world,” which, honestly, does not make even a little bit of sense. These refugees are living in the house the Baker’s father made? And they’re going to fancy dance parties? But the t-shirts and the wire fences fall away once the music starts. The characters fill the room, and the actors find the humor and the pathos of the show.

Especially funny are Alexander Coopersmith and John Jeffords, who double as the blowhard Princes and as Cinderella’s evil stepsisters, sometimes switching parts multiple times in the course of a line. The Witch (Julia Goretsky) wrings every bit of humor out of harrying the Baker and his Wife (Rudy Martinez and Elizabeth Kensek) who both ground the play with real emotion. And as the Wolf (and a half-dozen other animals) Torian Brackett steals every scene.

Of the two, I think you can sleep on “Mattress,” and direct your steps “Into the Woods.”

“Once Upon a Mattress” at Gallery Players (199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 595–0547, www.galleryplayers.com). Through March 17; Fri at 7:30 pm; Sat at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sun at 3 pm. $25 ($20 seniors and kids).

“Into The Woods” at Founders Hall at St. Francis College (180 Remsen St. between Court and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights, www.theater2020.com). Through March 17; Thu–Sun at various times. $40 ($30 students and seniors).

Panic at the disco: Gerardo Vallejo, as Prince Dauntless, and Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, as Princess Winnifred, dance the Spanish Panic in the Gallery Players production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” playing through March 17.
Steven Pisano