Once Upon a Mattress
by Young Actors Theatre

It’s the hectic days of 1428, and the citizens of this little kingdom are going more than a little nuts. The queen has decreed that no one can get married until her overly beloved son gets married, and mommy ain’t about to let that happen. Anyone seeking the hand of her son has to pass a special test she devises. A very difficult test. When brave knight Sir Harry learns he has less than nine months to get the prince married before his fiancé has a couple of mini Sir Harries, he sets off to find another princess contestant. Upon returning with oddball Princess Winnifred from the swamps, Queen Aggravain creates a new test, and the real story behind Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea is finally revealed…

Such is the setting of Mary Rodgers’ wacky Medieval musical Once Upon a Mattress, the show currently being performed by the group at Young Actors Theatre at their home in the intimate confines of the J. Isaac Pavilion in Spring Valley, the small theatre plopping you right down in the middle of the madness of Director Jean Isaac’s production.

This show and the entire castle livens up tremendously with the introduction of moat-swimming swamp princess Winnifred – “a delicate thing” who prefers to go by the name Fred. Charismatic comedian Amanda Friel is sensational in the role with her terrific physical comedy, strong voice, even stronger personality, and her creative vision for the role. Highlights include her not-so-Shy splash into the kingdom, getting lost in nostalgia for the Swamps of Home, hilariously showing off in the Song of Love (though trying to look demure for her prince after she manhandles a humongous barbell), sitting goofily upside down while studying for her big test, and frustratingly trying to get some sleep on the night of that test.

SeeJay Lewis is the meek and much more shy Prince Dauntless the Drab who is gaga over Fred from the moment she swims into his life, and the two play off one another perfectly in their adorably odd-couple courtship. Jessica Stamper is a regal riot as the uppity and vain Queen Aggravain who uses her voice with expert precision as she bosses around her subjects with a mixture of fake cajoling and fierce ordering, and tries to manipulate the son she has the hots for with her sweetly devious patronizing. It’s no wonder the mute King Sextimus chases after all the Ladies in Waiting (with little luck), Luke Benning turning in a highly amusing performance as said king who does all his talking with expressions and body language.

The king is joined by his friends the Jester (dancer Hallie Meth) and the Minstrel (Ian Lewis) for a good trio in The Minstrel, The Jester, and I, and the three later prove especially skilled at scaring the lovely, sweet-voiced, and very pregnant Lady Larken (Bristyl Hartwell) from running away. Danny Bixler plays Larkin’s confident…er…arrogant boyfriend Sir Harry, and Juliann Friel is the queen’s aged, scratchy-voiced, dutiful Wizard who hangs on her every word. The Nightingale that’s supposed to sing Fred to sleep might need some work (a little bird cage with a fake bird didn’t work as well as a real person/bird does), but the ensemble of knights and ladies, all donning some good-looking costumes by Carrie Meth, help make the Song of Love to end act one and the surprise ending of act two a couple of the best scenes of the show.

Performs through November 19, 2005.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

King Sextimus: Luke Benning
Queen Aggravain: Jessica Stamper
Prince Dauntless: SeeJay Lewis
Princess Winnifred: Amanda Friel
Jester: Halli Meth
Minstrel: Ian Lewis
Lady Larkin: Bristyl Hartwell
Sir Harry: Danny Bixler
Lady Lucille: Brook Boehmke
Lady Mabelle: Rachel Hansen
Lady Rowena: Kayla Lauzier
Lady Merrill: Emily Scott
Wizard & Ladies in Waiting: Juliann Friel
Ladies in Waiting: Autumn Durgan
Lady in Waiting: Melissa Farrior
Kitchen Wench: Emily Ventura
Sir Studley: Joshua Cavanaugh
Knight/Jester's Father: Jessica Isaac
Alex Sanchez
Sabastian Montenegro
Nico Ramirez
Jacob Statham

Director: Jean Isaac
Choreographer: Sarah Roberts
Accompanist: Harriet Szafranski
Costume Designer: Carrie Meth
Lighting Designer: Chris Smith
Set Designer: Roy Stamper, Laura Lauzier, John Ecker


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