Friday, April 26, 2013

REVIEW: Prairie-Ground's "Once Upon a Mattress" Is No Sleeper

"Once Upon a Mattress" is a musical comedy, music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer and book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer. It opened off-Broadway in May 1959, and then moved to Broadway.

The play was written as an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. "Once Upon A Mattress" marked the Broadway debut of later stage and TV legend Carol Burnett, who originated the role of Princess Winnifred (Fred) on the Great White Way. [Source: Wikipedia]

Austin Foley as the Jester.

The Subjects

The telling is quite involved with a bit of mystery, magic, a mistaken identity, love and laughs, twists and turns, but the basic idea is that only a true princess cannot sleep on a single pea--even when disguised under twenty mattresses. That's over-simplification to be sure because there is a lot going on in this wonderful tale that offers up plenty of fun and funny.

The Kings and Queens

Calin Breaux as Queen Aggravain. Photos Provided.
This production brings some of the Battle Ground school district's best talents to the stage including familiar-faced veterans like Josh Snider, Calin Breaux, Diana Ferar, Olivia Riggs, Nick Hulscher, Sarah Russell and Austin Foley--whom we have so enjoyed in the past--and many others. Some of them will graduate this year and move on; this could be your last chance to catch their quality performances. Others are fresh faces now stepping into the spotlight (and doing quite well).

There wasn't a bad performance in the show and even the smaller parts were well played (examples: Ronnie McPherson as Sir Studley and Rose Caughie as Lucille). Everyone sang and danced well.

Exceptional performances were given by Josh Snider (Minstrel), Diana Ferar and Nick Hulscher (as the couple Lady Larken and Sir Harry) and Austin Foley (Jester), but it was Calin Breaux (as Queen Aggravain), Jordon Hamann (as Prince Dauntless), Cole Johnson (as King Sextimus), and especially Olivia Riggs (as Princess Winnifred) who stood out above all the rest.

Josh Snider as the Minstrel.
Snider is a great comic and he was wonderful in this show (as he has been in the past), but he was overshadowed this time around by Cole Johnson who's mime antics, facial expression and physicality were perfect! Hamann, too, was ideally childish as Dauntless.

Ferar also proves herself a great comedienne, great with the facial and able to take a pratfall. Hulscher was good with Ferar--especially in their duet In a Little While--but he did not seem as perfected or shine quite as brightly as he did in "Singin' in the Rain." Austin Foley was a great surprise--definitely growing in talent. His soft shoe song and dance was fantastic!  Breaux was a genuine gas; she played the Queen perfectly, though her energy level (animated gestures) seemed to dip in Act II.

Olivia Riggs rises to the top as Princess Fred.
BUT, who really shined was Olivia Riggs. She was meant to play Princess Fred. I have seen her in several other productions, but this was her shining role! Just the right amount of tenderness mixed in with the perfect comic timing and physical comedy--the laugh, the singing, her dance, everything, top notch. The swamp song and Shy (as well as Happily Ever After) were delivered just as they should have been.

Jordon Hamann as Prince Dauntless
gets a kiss from his mommy.
While the students are certainly gifted, I have asked this before: How could one district have a monopoly on talented actors? They don't; statistically it isn't possible. The secret, therefore, has to be in something else and Battle Ground's secret is the 2013 Teacher of the Year, Claire Verity, who directs theater at both Prairie and Battle Ground high schools. [First link and second link are different articles.] Verity is the show's director, set designer and choreographer.

Additionally, recognition must be given to Vocal/Musical Director Darcy Schmitt, who like Verity, loves her job and her students and wants the best for them. Long a SW Wash. talent in her own right, she knows how to inspire students to greatness, having led her students to many victories at the Clark College Jazz Festival. Equal parts enthusiasm, "task-master," and faith bring out the best.

The Kingdom

Dustin McFarland (foreground) as The Wizard  and Cole
Johnson as King Sextimus on the set of "Once Upon a Matress."
Like most PGD productions the costumes are great. Unlike many of the PGD plays I have seen  the set was--well, "more there." Yes, it was still rather "highschooly," but at least there was more to it than there has been in the past productions I've seen. Though I'd rather see a well performed show on a blank stage than shoddy acting on a masterpiece set any day, it's nice when you get both. I like it when everything tickles all my aesthetic senses. So, nice set, too.

It seemed like the show could have used another tech run or so. Mic levels were unbalanced and drifted up and down and several light cues lagged or seemed odd. These are not problems I have noticed too much at PGD before and I hope they are ironed out.

The four-piece band, led by Vicki Burton, played well and did not overpower the vocalists, though their execution of the overture and entr'acte was a little clumsy. It sounded like the drummer was trying to follow the wandering tempos of the pianist instead of setting it.
Diana Ferar and Nick Hulscher.

The dances, as usual, were involved, interesting and very nicely executed. Definitely worth seeing.

The Treasury

The show plays 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; April 26 and 27, May 2-4 only at Battle Ground High School's cafeterium. Tickets at are a steal--a lot of bang for your buck.

NOTE: You can use our search feature to read other PGD reviews from past shows.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
All photographs by Michael Verity, provided.

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