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‘Once Upon a Mattress’ there was a deep cast

At the heart of every legend is a true story, and when the events unfolded which would later inspire the ‘Princess and the Pea,’ a minstrel was there.
‘Once Upon a Mattress,’ the ministrel’s retelling of that long-forgotten tale, opened last weekend at Hayswood Theatre in Corydon and returns Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Providence High School junior Michael Ehlers, performing as minstrel to Queen Aggravain (Patty McClure), turns back time to an age of knights, moats and overprotective queens in the story of one woman’s attempt to peel a prince from the white-knuckled clutches of his mother.
Dauntless the Drab (Justin Emmett) is ready to marry and doesn’t appear too picky. It’s not that the women who take his mother’s impossible tests aren’t beautiful and charming, it’s just that the prince has a childlike innocence that quickly warms to them all.
As such, he suffers an endless stream of disappointment when the prospective brides achieve the failure assured by the queen. She has declared that only a true princess of royal blood will marry her son, and she devises test after test to discredit them all. The prince never seems to catch on to the fact that Mom makes sure no princess has a chance.
This puts a moratorium on marriage throughout the kingdom as no one is allowed to marry until after the queen’s son is wed. Thus, unwed expectant mother Lady Larkin (Amanda Johnson) asks her valorous significant other, Sir Harry (Luke Newlin), to intervene before her pregnancy swells into a scandal.
Sir Harry travels to an unlikely hunting ground, and in the swamps discovers Winnifred the Woebegone, an amazing princess of remarkable fortitude.
Prince Dauntless is in love from the moment Winnifred (Lorna-Mae) swims the moat, twice. But Aggravain is quick to cook up a scheme. If a tiny pea secretly placed under a stack of mattresses doesn’t ruin the sleep of the princess, then she is no princess at all and unfit for her son, Aggravain plots.
It all comes together in a finale that contains, believe it or not, a couple of surprises.
Though there is plenty of music, dancing and fetching dress, the real appeal in this performance is in the delivery.
Emmett’s prince is good for plenty of laughs as he molds the overacting he did so well in ‘Fools’ into the shape of a delicate mama’s boy of a prince whose sincerity and silliness appeal to Winnifred. Emmett’s physical comedy and humorous turn of phrase show a lot of comedic instinct on the stage.
After first being introduced to his character, it’s hard to imagine how there could be any chemistry between he and Winnifred, but somehow it just fits.
Lorna-Mae as Winnifred delivers when she belts out ‘Shy’ in her introduction to the Queen’s court, she puts at risk the already fragile Hayswood Theatre roof with booming vocals that reach a volume that’s at least a bit amazing. Her exuberant performance grabs attention, but those vocals should enter the stratosphere sparingly outside of ‘Shy’ ‘ a number that demands the vocalist be anything but.
One can’t help wonder, however, what state of affairs the affairs of state are in with rulers like Dauntless, Aggravain and the mute, skirt-chasing King Sextimus the Silent (George Robert Bailey).
The script never bores us with those details; it sticks instead with catchy vocal arrangements in tunes like ‘Many Moons Ago’ sung by Ehlers and ‘In a Little While’ sung by Newlin and Johnson, who needs to put more confidence behind a voice she has reason to be proud of. An interesting variety of accompaniment is provided by Daniel Suddarth on keyboard and Stephen Lenng on piano.
Zoe Fisher’s charismatic delivery in jester’s clothes and pointy shoes is adorable. McClure is plenty convincing as the nagging, boisterous, migraine-inducing Aggravain. And as if explaining the birds and the bees isn’t awkward enough, King Sextimus the Silent takes it to another level with a largely unsuccessful game of charades.
Director John Hardaways’ ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ is a comedy with all-ages appeal. This is his first at Hayswood though he has directed more than 40 productions and appeared in more than 100 community and stock company productions.
Tickets to all Hayswood Theatre performances are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and children under 12. Seats can be reserved by calling Magdelena’s Restaurant at 738-8075.

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