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'Princess and the Pea' Pops!

Once upon a time, there was a really delightful tale about staying true to yourself playing in the suburbs of Chicago. The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences presents Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea. A sweet story about a miss-of-a-misfit book reading brunette commoner who literally bumps into the man of her dreams in the forest of Ipslonia. That charming prince is none other than avid writer Prince Wellington (Alex Goodrich) who is escaping the confines of the palace. It seems he is turning 18, which means it is time for him to marry. Alas, our hero wishes to marry for love, not duty.

Queen Evermean (the always delightful Susan Moniz) has taken it upon herself to find her son a suitable mate. She devises a game (rigged by her, of course) to aid with seeking a suitable bride for her introverted son. All the princess in the land will line up to pass “The Princess Test. “Think “American Idol” meets “Miss America Pageant.” The Princess Test sounds easy enough. Each girl must successfully pass 4 categories to win the Prince’s hand; #1. Appearance and Hygiene, #2. Intelligence, #3. Talent, and #4. Queen’s Choice. The Queen has already chosen Princess Buffy Binkleman (Samantha Pauly) as her son’s perfect companion. Buffy refers to herself as a “ golden ear of corn” but she is more like a plant. See, Princess Buffy’s father is a very well to do King who will pay Queen Evermean a hefty dowry for her son’s hand in marriage to his daughter. By the way, Buffy is on the deception. In a bright yellow cupcake gown, Shirley Temple blonde curls and a hat that resembles a bag of Jiffy Pop (think Amber from Hairspray) this vapid nemesis is a suitable match for no one. She does bring the laugh’s though. Her over-sung competition song rivals (in mannerisms) the Jessica’s and Mariah’s of the world! Priceless! But our Prince is not impressed, so he flees the confines of the palace for the forest.

At the same time, on the other side of the woods, we meet Ruth (the enchanting Dara Cameron) both a heavy sleeper and avid reader. Encouraged by her Papa (Don Forston) Ruthie sets out on her own, to find adventure and learn things first hand instead of reading about them in her vast collection of books. As fate would have it, the ardent reader and crafty story teller bump into one another and quickly fall in love. Queen Evermean and Buffy are both scandalized at the very thought of a commoner being allowed to enter the Princess Test, but with the help of Prince Wellington and Chester the Jester (Derrick Trumbly) Ruth quickly sails through the early categories. The pop culture quips are enough to keep the adults entertained too. Before the talent portion of the competition, Chester hands the microphone to our plucky competitor and advises “Sing out Louise.” “No, it’s Ruth” she replies. Later, when an approaching storm threatens to derail the royal wedding, all is moved inside except for the cake. The Queen laments “I hope no one left the cake out in the rain….I’ll never find that recipe again.” The Donna Summer fans in the audience (myself included) applauded this ode to “MacArthur’s Park.”

The final test to prove who is sensitive enough to be royalty is simple. Buffy and Ruth will both need to climb a stack of mattresses under which one has hidden, a tiny pea. She who doesn’t sleep will win the hand of the Prince. Well, I do not wish to ruin the ending here, but let’s just say, true love wins in the end. Isn't that why we all enjoy fairy tales with happy endings to begin with?

The endearing tale and valuable lesson about living things first hand and searching for your own dreams is brought to life in avid living color. And what color! The costumes designed by Nancy Missimi are fun. Director Scott Weinstein and musical director Ryan T. Nelson do a great job with this quick paced, modern spin on the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The 4 year old girl sitting next to me really enjoyed the costumes and I believe her mother has a new Halloween craft project at hand. When the show is over, stick around for the audience question and answer session. Each actor gets to respond to a spontaneous and random question from a kiddo in the audience. Since this is theatre intended for young audience, do know there will be lots of kids in attendance. I was one of the few there without children, but the pace is brisk, the story and songs delightful, and the visuals impress. Princess and the Pea is fun! Grab the kids (or the child at heart) and head out to the Marriott today.