‘Once Upon a Mattress’ at HCC a fun musical.
By Sue Langenberg
Season 38 for Summerset Theatre opens July 8 at Highland Community College with “Once Upon a Mattress, a lively and fun musical running for two weekends.
The two acts showcase area actors, musicians and many talents in what proves to be a most popular show for all ages.
The original fairytale was penned by Hans Christian Andersen in 1835 as “Princess and the Pea,” a story that he may have fashioned after a folk tale that he heard as a child. As with many literature beginnings, there are often mixed reviews (beloved ballet “The Nutcracker” is one example of lackluster reception in the late 19th century). These creations often morph themselves with twists and turns until the contemporary audience can finally accept an author perhaps a century and a half ahead of his time.
So ‘Princess’ became “Once Upon a Mattress” off-Broadway in 1959 with music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer adapted from book by Marshall, Jay Thompson and Dean Fuller.
The original Broadway cast included Carol Burnett who blasted her rubber-faced talents early in her career as Princess Winnifred. Not that this reviewer is an old hag or anything, but was actually there in 1964 for Burnett’s big time debut into show business. She was a dead ringer for success right then, in love with the audience and still crawling under the curtain to wave long after the finale – at merely a matinee. Also, jazz dancer icon Matt Maddox was in that original cast as showcase for memorable dance numbers. Maddox was up there with Jerome Robbins of “West Side Story” of the same era.
The story rolls along, never taking itself seriously with quips, characters and much ado in between complete with wannabees and curses. What with castles and moats, one might think a heavy historical message, but this show rather pulls off a most current satire on life using much chatty wit with some Vaudeville thrown in.
For HCC, the show brings area talent to the direction and set design of Elwyn Webb, musical direction of Al Redford and Bill Petersen in the pit with nine musicians. On stage, there is a delightful mix of area professionals, college students and high schools alike. Jackie Lipford as Princess Winnifred is most credible with her strong presence and awkwardness required for the part. Some of her highlight songs are “Happily Ever After,” as well as her gangbuster presence in “Shy.”
Familiar to area stages includes Judy Knudston as the haughty and devious Queen Aggravain. Knudston can always deliver a versatile performance of good acting and vocal skills. Wizard Rich Burkinshaw also presents his steady hand at playing any part with smooth articulation and seemingly effortless aura. Derek Simons, a longtime area actor/singer as wandering Minstrel is most impressive about taking his marvelous baritone voice all over other ranges in difficult songs. Bernie Leopold as King Sextimus the Silent is, for the most part, muted by a curse but quite comical in his body language.
Also notable is the delightful soprano voice of Kylie Donaldson as Lady Larken, starry-eyed and love-struck opposite Sir Harry played by handsome Brandon Miller. Jester Elise Brubaker is most plausible carrying the part to the upmost whose talents may be even under-used in this production. Her song “Very Soft Shoes,” however, was nearly upstaged by dancer Kiefer Otto whose moves were unusually agile and accomplished in the scene. Extraordinarily talented Andrew Dorsey as Prince Dauntless excels within the dynamics of the Queen Aggravain in many scenes and in song “Man to Man Talk” with King Sextimus. And, of course, charming Kayleigh Brukinshaw enters and exits sweeping a path fit for a queen.
Elsewhere in the cast are all the appropriate wenches, knights and ladies-in-waiting including Lauren Sheffey, Christina Kruger, Christian Armstrong, Andrew Reid, Katie Simler, Keeley Redford, Mollie Fissell, Haley Shores, Kristin Brandt, Halley Lapinski, Elijah Eiler, Andrew DeMeester and Trent Walker.
Main characters of this production include the talents of costume design by Linda Adams-Foat with outstanding hair piece fashions by Gail Petersen and lighting design by Lawrence Pittsley II.
Must-see “Once Upon a Mattress” runs at Highland Community College July 8, 9, 14, 15 & 16 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call the box office at (815) 235-6127 or online at http://www.highland.edu/news_events/events.asp.