-Reviewed by Megan Graves
Considering the huge popularity of the TV series Once Upon a Time, with its backstories of famous fairy tale characters, Midvale Art Council made a well-timed choice in producing the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” this summer. Though the plot isn’t quite obvious from the title, the play is a creative and hysterical musical retelling of the “true story” of the Princess and the Pea. I had already seen another production of this musical a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the characterizations, talent, and energy exhibited by the Midvale cast in this particular production. You and your family will surely enjoy the unique portrayal of the characters in the classic fairy tale, along with the inventive backstories for those characters.
Creative set and costumes
Reviews by Kids
Perhaps the best indication of whether this is a play that your whole family will enjoy is the positive reviews given by children who attended the play itself, and the fact that they were quoting specific lines from the play afterwards, for example “She swam the moat!? Is that all she ever says?!! – She swam the moat!?!” (said by Princess Winnifred, quoting Queen Aggravain, her possible future mother-in-law).
Grace Barlow (9), from Spanish Fork who watched the play, said “I liked the Princess [Winnifred]. The funniest part was when she was trying to sleep.”
Her brother Sam Barlow (12) chimed in and said, “It was so funny! I liked the king (Kevin Gwynn) and his impressions of the queen (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn). The prince (Tanner Tate) was funny. I liked his voice. And the funniest part was when the prince kisses [Winnifred] and he goes ‘Woooo!’ Another funny part was when the princess was talking to the bird [while she was trying to sleep] and she was like ‘Shhh!’”
Superb Acting by the Supporting Cast
Nephi Barlow (12) said, “I think they chose the cast well; I think they chose the right people for their parts.” I completely agree. The supporting cast was full of excellent actors, especially the kids! All the actors were more than just extras on the stage; they had personality the whole time and were involved in what was happening even if they did not have speaking parts. Audiences don’t just watch the main characters, thus the cast’s enthusiasm made the play much more enjoyable to watch. They made use of levels as well, using the stage steps, etc., so that the different cast personalities could shine even more. It was adorable when the kids were dancing and when they ‘fell asleep’ on the stage steps. A few kids in the audience said that they loved that children were in the play, and they thought they did an excellent job. Having been a music teacher for eight years, I was impressed at how well the littler children had memorized the song lyrics for their musical numbers!
The little children in the play were especially adorable.
From the lead roles, there were some super standout vocal performances by Lady Larkin (Allison Klippel) and Princess Winnifred (Alyssa Koontz). Their voices were both pleasant to listen to and fitting to their characters’ personalities. The Jester (Matthew Maag) also sang well. Though his solo song seems to be a completely random part of the play, kind of like the song “Put on a Happy Face” in the musical “Bye,Bye, Birdie,” he pulled it off well. It’s not always easy to act out the character everyone fears, but Queen Aggravain (Liz Kershisnik-Gwynn) lived up to her name and definitely portrayed the hawkish mother-type well. Princess Winnifred and Prince Dauntless (Tanner Tate) had great onstage chemistry, especially in the song “Happily Ever After.”
My personal favorite little bit of creativity added to the play was when the Wizard character said “Lumos!” as he entered the stage in one scene. It drew quite a few laughs from Harry Potter fans, and showed the actor knew his audience!
Stephanie Chatterton, the director, described the essence of Community Theater and the benefits of the actors working together when she said after the show, “To me the production is the icing on the cake. It’s the cherry on top. It’s really about the camaraderie that they get – it’s about the experiences they have during the rehearsal process. As they go from being scared to death at auditions or coming in with expectations at auditions, to going through and ending up being like a family by the time they’re done. They’ll love each other and miss each other because they’ve grown together as a cast. They’ve worked together, they’ve sacrificed together, they’ve developed their characters together, and every single one of them has a backstory. So to me, that’s why we do Community Theater. It’s not about putting on a Broadway production; it’s about the people that are involved with it.” From the production that we saw, it was obvious that was true and that the cast and the audience were all having a wonderful time and experiencing the joy of live, true community theater.
Some of the littlest actors were all tuckered out.
Great Set Design, Costumes, and Choreography
Though the set and props were sparse and simple, they were time-period appropriate and effective. It is no small feat to build a 20-mattress-high moving bed. The minstrel had an authentic old mandolin, and other props were period-appropriate as well. The costumes were varied and colorful, and went together well when the whole cast was on stage. The leaves in the Swamp Princess Winnifred’s hair were a nice added touch as well.
The choreographed dance numbers with the cast were lively and fun, though the ballet opening number was an interesting artistic choice. We were worried at first the whole play might be ballet, but it wasn’t. You might learn a fun new creative line dance or two from the cast, though, so be prepared!
Pleasant Setting Overall
The performance was in a beautiful park, with tall trees by the stage, and everything you need for a pleasant night out. We brought a picnic dinner because we didn’t know the food trucks would be there (yum!), but we did take advantage of the candy concessions at the ticket table for dessert. We brought blankets which were great to have near the end of the play as it got colder, and though we were fine, it probably would have been good to bring chairs as well. Also, there is a bathroom right by the parking lot, so no worries in that regard.
Be advised, make sure to get a spot where you can easily see the center of the stage. (*Spoiler alert: What some of us in the audience did miss was the pulling out of a bunch of ragtag random items from under the princess’s bed; we were looking forward to seeing the crazy items put there to help keep her awake but we couldn’t see because we weren’t facing the center of the stage, and it didn’t look like anything too odd was under the bed either, but the kids in the audience still found that scene to be hilarious!)
The show plays in Midvale Park Stage tomorrow, June 17, and Saturday, June 18, and starts at 7:30pm, so if you are in the area, here are more details: http://www.nowplayingutah.com/event/detail/441927265/Once_Upon_a_Mattress
Sensitivity and Appropriateness Rating
I must say — though the community theater actors did a great job on their production and it was enjoyable to watch, and I support community theater, including this one, wholeheartedly — that the script of this play might shock and offend some patrons, because of the words G-d and h_ll, and some sexual innuendos being spoken in various parts of the play, as well as the 1300s-like chauvinist language and acts portrayed on stage. Though some children might be oblivious to the following, some sexist language and behavior is the unfortunate bane, dare I say plague, of some older musicals, including this one. Let’s just say it is not surprising this play was written in 1959. An example of this is when Sir Harry finds out Lady Larkin is pregnant and says: “We don’t have to both suffer because YOU had a moment of weakness.” The only saving grace is that he’s saying it before he goes on a quest so they can get married sooner. He also partly saves his character’s reputation later by saying in his apology to Lady Larkin that “[he] was out of [his] mind” after he was cavorting with other women, but it’s a weak apology at best.
I was particularly shocked, though, especially when thinking about it more afterwards, at the behavior of the married King in the play (flirting with and even goosing other women, etc.) and what seemed like the acceptance/ excusing of such behavior by some members of the court that I saw on stage. This was an artistic choice by the people involved, as it was not written in the script.
The only redeeming quality of seeing and hearing these sometimes shocking things portrayed on stage is the knowledge that at least our civilization has improved since the 1300s, though 600+ years apparently didn’t improve it quite well enough (as evidenced by the outdated 1950s script, for one). The other advantage was that it led to some lively and interesting discussion on the ride home with the people (children included) who attended.