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Review: Transport Group’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

December 14th, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Jackie Hoffman (center) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Jackie Hoffman (center) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Transport Group (Jack Cummings III, Artistic Director) has nurtured some fine productions that have gone on to commercial success. From Almost, Maine to Lysistrata Jones, they have introduced new works and reinvented “old chestnuts.” The company’s name seems perfectly apropos for their new, fabulously funny production of 1959’s Once upon a Mattress, which opened Sunday evening at the Abrons Art Center.

Composer Mary Rodgers and book writers Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer whisk us to medieval times, where we are introduced to a kingdom in a quandary. Queen Aggravain, played by runway perfect female impersonator, John “Lypsinka” Epperson, has decreed that no one in the land is permitted to marry until her son, Prince Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams), is wed. As they shuffle through 13 princesses, not one is deemed worthy—that is, until Princess Winnifred (Jackie Hoffman) arrives.

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in 'Once Upon a Mattress.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

John Epperson (l) and Jackie Hoffman (r) in ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Winnifred, or “Fred” as she is known to close friends, claims to be “shy.” Believing that Hoffman is shy is akin to believing in the tooth fairy. Hoffman, whose Broadway credits include Hairspray, The Addams Family, and the recent revival of On the Town, carries so much life and comedic skill it’s a small wonder how one stage can contain her. Hoffman has big shoes to fill, as Carol Burnett originally created the role. She effortlessly succeeds. With impressive vocal and physical gymnastics, Hoffman owns the role. Epperson also shines as the Joan Crawford-esque villainous Queen. Few performers have the ability to draw focus with the slightest raise of a brow, but Epperson is an old-school master who knows how to rule both a kingdom—and a stage.

The show, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, has a marvelous ensemble under the direction of Jack Cummings III. A subplot involving Sir Harry (Zak Resnick) and Lady Larken (Jessica Fontana) increase the urgency for Dauntless to take a bride. Larken is pregnant and wishes to tie the knot, lest she flee the kingdom from embarrassment. Resnick and Fontana possess beautiful singing voices, which blend quite nicely in the score’s ballads, including, “In a Little While” and “Yesterday I Loved You.”

With a majority of the players having Broadway credits, the downtown show may well be served in midtown’s Broadway theater district. While there has been no talk of a transfer, let’s hope that producers will find a way to bring this adorable family-friendly show to a larger house. (The last revival was seen in 1996 starring Sarah Jessica Parker).

With Kathryn Roe’s colorful costumes, Sandra Goldmark cartoonish sets, Ken Fallin’s live, projected drawings and this winning ensemble, this newly scrubbed version of Once Upon A Matttress provides the perfect escapist antidote to “transport” us to a magical world of musical theater.

Once Upon a Mattress
Transport Group at Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street, NYC
Through January 3

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

Lypsinka Returns This Summer!

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

Lypsinka.1

Guess who’s back? Lypsinka (a.k.a. John Epperson) returns to Off Broadway this summer with his hit show, Lypsinka! The Boxed Set. 

Click for details. 

Categories: The Buzz, Way Off Broadway Tags:

Review: Lypsinka! The Boxed Set

November 14th, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler gets an earful from downtown favorite Lypsinka. Want more of the Broadway Blog? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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John Epperson as Lypsinka (photo: Peter Palladino via The Broadway Blog.)

Say what?

John Epperson is back as Lypsinka, his high glamour alter ego that has been playing the boards in various incarnations for more than two decades. Lypsinka! The Trilogy showcases three productions in repertory: Lypsinka! The Boxed Set, The Passion of the Crawford, and John Epperson: Show Trash.

John Epperson as Lypsinka (photo: Austin Young via The Broadway Blog.)

John Epperson as Lypsinka (photo: Austin Young via The Broadway Blog.)

I had a chance to catch the classic, Lypsinka! The Boxed Set, which features some of Epperson’s most iconic work. If you’ve been living under a rock since the ‘90s, Epperson, along with engineer Alex Noyes, captures songs and snippets from some of our favorite leading ladies of the silver screen and beyond. It’s miraculous to imagine how the duo spliced it all together, weaving a fantasia of fabulousness that honors the era and also gives it a jovial poke.

Aided by a ‘50s-inspired variety show set by Jim Boutin and razor sharp lighting and follow spots designed by Mark Simpson with Jeremy Owens, Epperson fluidly moves through songs and patter from recognizable voices such as Ethel Merman, Kay Stevens, Judy Garland, Phyllis Diller and more. Then there are quirkier shout-outs such as Canadian singer Gisele MacKenzie (known for her appearances on the television show, Your Hit Parade), Aussie Judith Anderson (Tony Award winner in 1948 for her role in Medea), and monologist Ruth Draper.

Epperson’s knowledge of the mid 20th century cannon is unstoppable, as is his theatrical interpretation, which juxtaposes classic production numbers with a tormented inner monologue and high-stake physicality. If he wasn’t wearing a dress, you might see a resemblance to the hijinks of entertainers such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, though as Lypsinka, he’s got a far better set of legs.

The trilogy includes Epperson as himself in Show Trash, where the audience gets exclusive dish on his years from Mississippi to Manhattan and beyond. But it is the bigger-than-life Lypsinka that should beckon you to the East Village for a performance artist that never seems to go out of style.

Lypsinka: The Trilogy
The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street
Schedule varies through January 3, 2015