Young cast promises fun show in 'Once Upon a Mattress'

Children's Theatre of Annapolis will extend holiday cheer into two January weekends with its production of "Once Upon a Mattress," Mary Rodgers' musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea." Judging by the performances at CTA's rehearsal last week, audiences can expect a rocking, rollicking treat.

Written by the daughter of famed composer Richard Rodgers for a summer camp show, the musical comedy was later expanded to open on Broadway in 1959, where it ran for 460 performances. It made a star of a then-unknown Carol Burnett, who played Princess Winnifred.

This fractured fairy tale about a mythical kingdom where no one is permitted to marry until Prince Dauntless reveals the many roadblocks set up by his protective mother, Queen Aggravain.

Her test of each candidate's royal bloodline assesses the girl's ability to sleep soundly without noticing the single pea placed under her stack of mattresses. Queen Aggravain succeeds in preventing her love-starved son to marry, along with the entire kingdom because of the strict law "throughout the land no one may wed until Dauntless shares his marriage bed."

Jason Kimmell returns as director and choreographer, and Wes Livingston debuts at CTA as the show's music director.

Assembled on stage at rehearsal were 31 performers ages 12 to 18, most of whom made up a harmonious singing chorus.

Kimmell has fine rapport with his young cast and is able to draw skilled performances, including near-perfect diction, from almost every player heard.

After the rehearsal, Kimmell said, "I absolutely adore working with the whole group from adults to kids. The adults put in as much time and work as the kids do, handling PR, set construction and other chores.

"I've worked with quite a few of these kids before and find there is a real cohesiveness not only in stage work but offstage as well, where they hang out together so they've become a real family," he said.

Among the young cast are several strong vocalists, including Severna Park High School senior Justin Binnix as the narrator of the show, who impresses with his stage presence, excellent diction and mature singing voice.

Another talented performer is home-schooled 10th-grader Isaac Simonaire, who plays Prince Dauntless, and already displays sharp comedic skills as a mama's boy.

Proving equally skilled at comedy and singing, Seton High School junior Alice Bannigan is a charming Winnifred, belting out her character's defining number "Shy," which anticipates her entrance into the palace by swimming across a moat.

Another outstanding player is poised Cassidy Hamilton, a 15-year-old Spalding High School freshman who is sophisticated beyond her years as Lady Larken, the love of romantic Sir Harry, played by 16-year-old Austin Heemstra.

Other lead roles include Queen Aggravain, played by Hayley White, the Wizard, played by Jeff Miller, age 17, Colleen Coleman as the ballet princess and Mark Hollerbach as the ballet prince.

If you go

Performances of "Once Upon a Mattress" will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7, 9, 14, and 15 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 8, 9, 15 and 16. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children and seniors. Call calling 410-757-2281 or go to Children's Theatre of Annapolis is at 1661 Bay Head Road in Annapolis

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