Although it's a staple of high school drama clubs, the tuneful 1959 musical comedy/fairy tale burlesque "Once Upon a Mattress" is rarely revived professionally, as its distinctive brand of old-fashioned, over-the-top comedy is very difficult to pull off today.
A comic riff on "The Princess and the Pea," the overenthusiastic Princess Winnifred (originally played by Carol Burnett) competes for the hand in marriage of Prince Dauntless, who is closely guarded by his possessive mother, Queen Aggravain.
A 1996 Broadway revival starring Sarah Jessica Parker was a misfire, and a 2005 television film with Tracey Ullman and Zooey Deschanel was an outright disaster.
But now comes an offbeat, joyful, absolutely triumphant Off-Broadway production at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side, led by comic Jackie Hoffman as Winnifred and drag performer John "Lypsinka" Epperson as Aggravain.
Directed by Jack Cummings III on behalf of the Transport Group, it combines an affection for old-fashioned musical comedy with a downtown vibe and pumped-up hormonal spirit.
Feeling scrappy but actually quite elaborate, it features a full-size orchestra, big vocals and jaunty dance choreography. The design concept, in which storybook illustrations are drawn live and projected against a back wall, adds to the unpredictable air.
Hoffman, known for her comic bits in musicals like "Hairspray" and "The Addams Family," is looney, sincere and truly hilarious, while Epperson relies on diva-like grandeur in his expert use of camp. The excellent cast also includes experimental performer David Greenspan as the silent King Sextimus (who mimes in order to communicate).
The revival is dedicated to the memory of its composer, Mary Rodgers, who passed away last year. She would have loved it.
If you go: "Once Upon a Mattress" plays at the Abrons Arts Center through Jan. 3. 466 Grand St., transportgroup.org.