by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Stanton College Preparatory School presented its annual musical production January 31 to February 2 at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco. Though Stanton is nationally known for its academic program and is consistently ranked among the top high schools in the country, it also has a fine theatre program which puts on varied productions during the school year. The annual musical is the school’s most ambitious endeavor, involving the greatest number of students and teachers and, of course, their very enthusiastic and enterprising parent boosters.
This year’s musical , the ever popular “Once Upon a Mattress” was directed by Award Winning Director Shirley Sacks, with Choreography by Candace Cook Leonard. The set by the EJ McKnight Stagecraft Class was built at the school and transported to the theatre.
“Once Upon a Mattress” debuted in 1959, and launched the career of the now retired long time television star Carol Burnett. The music was written by Mary Rodgers, the daughter of the famous Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Since its inception, it has remained popular especially with high school and college drama programs. The plot is an adapted version of Hans Christian Anderson’s popular fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.”
The show opens with a Minstrel (William Leonard) giving the audience a song that outlines the general plot of the show.
In the year 1428, the lean and mean Queen Aggravain ( very convincingly played by Jessica Williams) presides over a medieval kingdom. Her son Prince Dauntless wants to marry but the controlling Queen does not want to lose her son. The Queen has decreed that candidates for the role of Princess must pass a test that she has designed; the tests are unbeatable. Twelve very lovely princesses from nearby kingdoms have all failed. The affable Dauntless was played by Bo Phelan with gusto and great comedic timing.
The King (William Tiner) does not have much to say about the Queen’s dominating behavior; in fact he says nothing at all since he is a mute due to a curse placed years ago. The King expresses himself in a very Marcel Marceau way.
The pool of potential wives seems exhausted, until Knight Sir Harry (David Scott) comes to the rescue out of necessity. He is in love with Lady Larken (Jennifer Stehlin), and wants to marry her, actually needs to marry her, as she is in a family way. Alas, according to the laws of the land, no one can marry in Aggravain’s kingdom until Dauntless gets hitched.
Sir Harry searches far from the kingdom to find a princess and finally in a swamp far to the north finds Winnifred ( Rachel Jaffe), a very attractive but tomboy type who is delightful and strong as well. She can lift a 200-pound barbell over her head with ease.
Dauntless very much likes Winnifred (or Fred as she likes to be known), but he is afraid she will not be able to pass the test that the Queen and her court Wizard (Trey Lewis) are devising. The test involves a secret sensitivity assessment . Winnifred will go to retire for the night on a bed stacked with twenty thick mattresses. Somewhere near the bottom of the stack, the Queen will place a single pea. If Winnifred is truly a princess, she will not be able to sleep due to the lump caused by the pea. To stack the deck even more, the Queen has Winnifred dance all evening before going to bed and then presents her with a night time beverage containing a sleeping potion.
Most of us know the rest of the fairy tale; Winnifred is unable to sleep due to dozens of items like tools and weapons and brooms placed under the mattresses by her supporters. The Queen still wants to refuse to allow Dauntless to marry, but he suddenly has the courage to challenge her. This breaks the spell cast upon his father the King, who can now speak, and just as unexpectedly the Queen becomes mute, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The portable sets gave us a feeling of being in a castle, with stone walls with openings for entrances and exits, thrones for the king and queen, and of course, that bed piled high with colorful mattresses.
The very colorful and plentiful costumes with medieval gowns and head dresses in rich, colorful fabrics made this musical a visual delight. Theatre Jacksonville costume guru Tracy Olin designed the costumes assisted by students Kiran Pandit as Costume Manager and Alyssa Cabrera and Kaelyn Ibold as costume crew. Stage Manager Matt Ubl and Assistant Stage Manager Sophie Higdon kept things running smoothly on the many entrances and exits.
The orchestra consisted of Ellen Milligan on the piano and Evan Peterson on percussion/keyboard. None of the songs from this show became a hit but they were all fun to listen to and the cast seemed to enjoy performing them. The choreography was adequate but not elaborate. Judging by the applause, the most popular number in the show was “Very Soft Shoes” performed as a solo song and dance number by Jester Christian Mercado.
Rounding out the cast as they appeared in the program were: Macy Sadler, Declan Brown, Katie Mackin, Desia Bacon, Zoe Mignone, Netta Walker, Alyssa Moody, Katie Drell, Aaron Zeiler, Tyler Redd, Meg Jenkins, Tristan Beasley-Painter, Emily Hart, Bailey Arrendale Ali Christovich, Ariel Hochstadt, Jenna Levine, Isabella Martinez, Autumn McNair, Torii Nolen, Marissa Renner, Emily Walker, Sam Hannah, and Adrian Morris.
As in the past, we enjoyed our evening of being entertained by Thespian Troupe 3929 of Stanton Prep School. We are looking forward to visiting the school for Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to be presented from April 26-28, 2013.