Once Upon a Mattress, a musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Princess and the Pea," is remembered as a modest success (it ran for 216 performances Off-Broadway in 1959-60, then transferred to Broadway for another 244 performances) that provides two footnotes to theater history: its songs were composed by Mary Rodgers, the daughter of Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, and Carol Burnett first made her mark in the starring role of the princess. The original Broadway and London productions produced cast albums, but after that decades went by without an important revival. Meanwhile, notes annotator Bill Rosenfield, the show, doubtless largely because of its subject matter, became a perennial favorite for school's and other amateur stagings, with "over 300 productions annually in the U.S. alone." That in itself was reason enough to mount a Broadway revival, if only to have the opportunity to update the lyrics and libretto, have new orchestrations done, and generally spiff up an old warhorse. The key challenge, of course, was casting the princess, and when the revival opened on December 19, 1996, critics agreed that the challenge had not been met. Sarah Jessica Parker was a Broadway veteran, her stage career dating back to Annie, but she was too pretty for the part of a rough-and-tumble princess from the swamps whose nickname is Fred, and worse, she wasn't very funny. As a result, perhaps, the revival ran only 187 performances. On record, Parker is far more acceptable, rampaging through her first big number, "Shy," and she gets plenty of support from the rest of the cast. The score, augmented with a new song, "Goodnight, Sweet Princess," remains serviceable but unmemorable. The cast album to get is still the original with Burnett.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann