The Sarah Jessica Parker revival of Once Upon a Mattress, suffering through one of the rockier preview periods in recent memory, is ready to begin press previews tonight, Dec. 17, gearing up for the Dec. 19 opening.
One of the most anticipated openings of the season, Mattress has had to cope with a spat between director Gerald Gutierrez and lyricist Marshall Barer, and the illness of its star. Parker, who plays Princess Winnifred, fell victim to a bronchial infection and missed three performances: Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday Dec. 7. The Friday show was canceled, the Saturday shows featured understudy Janet Metz. Though Parker is back performing the show, a preview scheduled for Dec. 9 was canceled to allow time for the director and producers to work on what production spokesperson Susanne Tighe said was "additional staging," though she would not elaborate.
"Schedules are always crazy during previews, especially around holiday time," was the initial explanation for the cancellation.
Daily News columnist Michael Riedel reported that director Gerald Gutierrez has barred librettist Marshall Barer from the Broadhurst Theatre.
Barer told Riedel, "To say there is tension between Gerald Gutierrez and myself is an understatement. That man has ruined my show!" Though Riedel could not reach Gutierrez for comment, Mattress producer Michael David said, "Marshall has been asked not to be at the theater for a reason, and he is unhappy about it. He can be a very destructive force, and we found that unacceptable in the rehearsal process."
Barer says he wanted to help Parker with her performance. "Sarah was having trouble, and I reached out to her," he said. "I told her I had some tapes of Carol Burnett" and that there is much she could learn from them." A production source who asked not to be named told Riedel that Barer's behavior was not quite so "helpful," and that he allegedly barged backstage and insulted Parker's performance.
Barer denied this, saying that Parker had a marvelous gamine quality but needed vocal work.
Barer was less charitable about the production as a whole. "Gerry has directed it as if it were Medea," he was quoted as saying.
Spokesperson Tighe had no comment on any of the controversies except to say that, "Marshall Barer has been a disruptive influence from the start. It's incorrect, though, to say the director banned him. The production banned him." Tighe would not elaborate.
On Dec. 17, Tighe told Playbill On-Line that the show was "frozen" (meaning no more changes were taking place) and ready. "There's nothing out of the ordinary here," Tighe said, affirming that Sarah Jessica Parker is now in good health. Asked if the Gutierrez/Barer spat had been patched up, or if Barer would be invited (or even allowed) at the opening, Tighe said, "I'm not going to answer that."
Mattress had some apparently unrelated trouble early in the rehearsal process, when Michael McGrath, who left Off-Broadway's The Cocoanuts to take the Broadway role as the Jester, ended up leaving Mattress by mutual agreement.
This would not be the first Once Upon A Mattress with a squeaky spring. According to a Playbill On-Line reader, 30 years ago, Broadway director Jerry Zaks (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and Robert Reich appeared in a production of Mattress at Dartmouth College. Zaks, who confirmed the story through his spokesman, was the Jester and Reich (now Secretary of Labor) was the King. When first performed at Winter Carnival, the show lost the services of Reich for several performances when he was felled at the last minute by a kidney stone attack. He did appear in the show on some nights, however, and came back to do the King when the production was revived in the late Spring for Reunion Week. The poster for the show was designed and drawn by Reich, who was also an accomplished artist.