Once Upon A Mattress Charms at Heritage Community Theatre

By Steve Odenthal

                Something good is happening at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah—something that can take captive and flat run away with your imagination. That Imagineering is a good thing because Once Upon A Mattress was written just to do that very thing—break some barriers.  When Mary Rodgers (Music), Marshall Barer (Lyrics), and Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer (Book) put their heads together and opened the Broadway version in 1959 they had a very different vision of a Princess in mind, and a young Carol Burnett was the actress perfectly selected to debut in the role.  Yes, this was to be a less frosty and not-so-porcelain portrayal of a royal—a more relatable, loud, and common princess who could command, conquer, and achieve her heart’s desire on her own terms and in her own good time–even if that requires a quick dip in the moat. This adapted romp retelling and twisting the classic Princess and the Pea ran for 244 performances in its original Broadway run, garnering several Tony nominations along the way.

                If, perchance, it is a good time that you are after between March 1st and the 23rd (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights at 7:30 PM), you would do well to find a seat and a smile at the Heritage Theatre on Highway 89 in Perry, Utah and let this veteran cast take your imagination and run with it.  Don’t worry; you’re in good hands–from the evil Queen Aggravain (Amber Kacherian) right down to the Jester (Nicole Atkinson) in this Court, although it may not seem so at first. The story opens with the cruel dismissal of the beautiful, young Princess No. 12 (Courtney Fairbourn) who is every bit of charm and grace in her role yet shows us a definite knack for comedy, by the Queen in front of a disappointed Prince Dauntless (Caderik Wilson) and the entirely crestfallen Court of the Kingdom of Drab. We soon find out that the mother-Queen has decreed that her Prince of a son is to be married before any of the other members of her court will be allowed to take someone’s hand.  Wilson’s initial portrayal of Dauntless immediately informs us that this could be a long wait and we can see that the natives are getting restless. Some of the Ladies in Waiting have been… waiting a bit longer than normal in this Kingdom of Drab. We also quietly find out that more than a hand has been held in one case and now the community is united in finding a bride/Princess for the young Prince. At the urging of Lady Larken (Sarah Johnson), her Knight, Sir Harry (Jordan Martineau) sets out to find the most special Princess and right this world.

                Does Sir Harry succeed? I won’t tell you here, but it’s safe to say that a Knight usually does. He brings home a prize beyond the hopes of our young Prince Dauntless and certainly the Queen’s imagination anyway. Someone is needed in this Kingdom to hold their own with the Queen and set things right, after all. Princess Winnifred (Rebecca Genther), or Fred for short, fits the bill exactly. With her fine voice and expressive facials, Genther takes us on her journey with an easy smile and down-home charm—maybe we aren’t up to swimming a moat just yet but we are captured enough by her that we would at least splash around a bit. And certainly, Prince Dauntless is ready to take the plunge.  (Queen-Mom is another story.)

                Charming is a word that gets thrown around easily in fairy tales but you won’t find a single Prince by that name in this show. No. Charming is best used when talking about this veteran cast, some new to the Heritage, but most are easily recognizable and comfortable performers. You can tell that this cast assembled by Director Meg Clawson (in her Directorial debut at HCT) is at home with one another and know how to deliver a show. I have no doubt that rehearsals must have been absolutely delightful. This is not to say that Clawson had a life of ease in her role, as delivering an even show is a challenge even with a veteran group of actors. If she had any spare time at all pre-production it would be a surprise as she also handled the chores of Choreographer and Costume Designer. She also envisioned the staging which is accomplished simply and efficiently so as not to interfere with portrayals in the Kingdom of Drab. A big part of this efficiency is under the guidance of Stage Manager Mikenzee Howie as she coaches the troupe through the scene changes with a professional manner. Notable in the effort are Nancy Baker (Emily the Chambermaid), and Melissa Jones (Kate the Kitchen Wench) who in addition to their singing and acting roles were essential in the execution of so many scenes. They did things that I noticed and you won’t, because they are that good. They should have T-Shirts made that say “Mikenzee’s Minions”. I mention it here, but you should just enjoy the show. Good job.

                Drab is not the feeling you come away with when you visit this production. You experience quite a few smiles and lot of laughter—never hard to take.  Tad Wilson (King Sextimus), Nicole Atkinson (Jester; The Nightingale of Samarkand), and Abby Payne-Peterson (Minstrel) are each delightful individually and collectively as they serenade us with “The Jester, The Minstrel and I”. As much as I enjoyed their rendition, I have to admit that as far as I am concerned the heavy lifting on the vocals is handled by Payne-Peterson and Atkinson–Wilson, not so much. (You will understand when you see the show.)

                  Every Kingdom worth its salt has a Wizard on staff and Drab is no backwater- slacker in this regard as its resident Wizard (Troy Hone) commands the stage at all the right times but also is perfecting a magic act—maybe as a fallback career, before our very eyes. Perhaps Vegas is in his future?

                The Ladies in Waiting [Lady Rowena (Marsha Holmes), Lady Lucille (Alanna Christensen), Lady Merrill (Brooke Wardle), Lady Mabelle (Rachel Hunt), Lady Sythia (Courtney Fairbourn)] each are given opportunity to dance, frolic and express their talents for comedy and each toes up to the line admirably. There were so many times in this show where my eyes wandered just to see what treat was in store for me, as each of these ladies kept in character but fully embraced the funny situation they found themselves in.

                A special note needs to be made about the one lady who waited most anxiously, LadyLarken and her beau Sir Harry. Their situation is well acted by the pair (Martineau and Johnson) without belittling or getting heavy-handed in the show. I enjoyed how they handled their roles, especially after I came to grips with seeming age difference. I would prefer a little more aging on Sir Harry. Maybe a bit of grey.

                I would think that a Music Director (Martineau) would have at least a little grey to his hair—at least if they were working with me, but in this case, with the fine voices that abound on this stage—maybe not. In any case, the voices are rich and pure in their portrayal of the story.

                   Not to be outdone by their counterparts, the Knights of the Kingdom [Sir Studley (Trayson Wilson), Sir Luce (Jordan Gardner), Sir Racha (Ashton Bossa)] run a gamut of incredulous looks all the way to a full Spanish Panic (you will know after you see the show) with Knightly grace.

                Some of my favorite moments in the show came as I watched Princess Winnifred exasperate the Queen. These two, Genther and Kacherian have a special way of disconnecting from each other in such a masterful way, I was entranced. Kacherian has her role nailed and the actress is hard not to watch at every moment she occupies the stage. (But, what else would you expect from the Queen?) Let’s just say that she adds deliciousness to her evil. Genther on the other hand, gives a performance that is firmly not intimidated by the Queen and is very comfortable in her own skin. That is the way it should be. She is very much a role model for today and a welcome treat.

                I really also enjoyed the Wilson family connection as I watched a spirited and tender scene between father and son (Tad and Caderik) as the King, in his own quiet way, explained the birds and bees in “Man to Man Talk” to his son Dauntless.                 Another highlight to this show for me is Nicole Atkinson as the Jester. She brings certain strength to each scene she is in and a strong sentiment as she sings lead with the Ladies on “Very Soft Shoes”.  With a very strong cast, this show is definitely a pleaser and one that you will want to see this season. I know you will enjoy it.

You will have an extraordinary time with this show and if you attend on Opening Weekend (Friday, Saturday, Monday) the Theatre is offering a buy one get one special if you use the BOGO code at the box office or online.  You should go. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Steve Odenthal

Steve Odenthal is a Playwright, Humorist, Writer, and Patron of the Arts. Theatre is a great passion and with this website he hopes to promote thought and discussion (not soundbites and crusades) pertaining to what goes into great theatre at all levels. A playsright's alley is that spot in the production where communication between the Playwrights and Directors can come to grips with their respective visions.

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