'Once Upon A Mattress' by Watertown High School Musical Theatre
Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
Watertown, CT - Watertown High School Musical Theatre has a history of ambitious productions. This year they decided upon ‘Once Upon A Mattress’ with music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and a books by Jay Thompson, Marshall Barer and Dean Fuller. Foster Evans Reese was the director and choreographer of his eighth musical at WHS and Christine Manalo, a WHS graduate, was the vocal music director. Ms. Manalo is currently studying music ed and voice at Western CT State University and recently appeared in the opera ‘The Gondoliers.’
‘Once Upon A Mattress’ was written as an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and is a popular choice of high schools. It is pretty light fare and not one of my favorites, but it offers some great parts for strong comedic actors. I am sure that Carol Burnett was the quintessential Winnifred.
The current students at Watertown HS rose to the challenge of just about every aspect of this musical, although there were a couple minor opening night glitches. I loved the beautiful royal costumes and everyone worked together to pull it all off.
Senior Joshua Rodis, who has appeared in Naugatuck Teen Theatre, played the minstrel that opened the show; Josh will attend NVCC in the fall. Senior Nicolette Meka was pretty cute in the role of the unlucky Princess No. 12; this young lady will attend UConn this fall. Junior Gabriel Hovey was a pretty convincing wizard. Senior Alex Perez played Prince Dauntless, the mama’s boy; when he graduates, this young man will be entering the military. Julia Squillace, a junior who was Vi Moore in ‘Footloose,’ played the pretty aggravating Queen Aggravain to perfection. Senior Gordon Adshade was good at pantomime as King Saximus the Silent, until he (spoiler alert) is mute no longer. This young actor played his sax onstage as he chased the young ladies in his court. In the fall, he will attend SCSU to major in Physics.
“Effortless” is the best word to describe the performances of the leading ladies. Allison VanDerlyn, also seen on the stage at the Thomaston Opera House, was lovely as Lady Rowena. Junior Madison McNulty was a natural comic actress as the jester and sang well to boot. Senior Mary Ryan did not miss a lovely note as the lady Larken; this young actress has appeared in musicals with Whimsicality, Landmark Community Theatre and NTT. The super talented Jennifer Beveridge, now a WHS senior, was perfectly cast in the role of Princess Winnifred; she sang so very well (especially in her powerhouse rendition of “Shy”) and nailed all the comic elements, but I would expect nothing less from this young lady who is already a part time student at NVCC as a theatre major.
Maya Khazzaka was the singing Nightingale of Samarkand and Caliegh Petrillo danced as the parent of the jester. Jewell Hearon, a junior, was the often clueless but perfectly coiffed Sir Harry. Declan Manning played Sir Studley. Garett Mitchell, Owen Jalbert, and Robert Mitchell played handsome knights and Ruba Khazzaka, sophomore Eliya Brennan, senior Adrianna Perugini, and senior Alyssa Townsend rocked their medieval gowns as named Ladies. Other Ladies in Waiting included senior Nicole Aquavia, senior Josie Feliciano, Courtney Candee, freshman Lily Burne, senior Megan Gallagher and sophomore Hayley Zemaitis. Members of the ensemble danced well.
Instrumental musical director and conductor of the WHS students in the orchestra was WHS Band Director Joseph Hahn. This high school always recognizes well the talented student musicians that are a necessary part of their musical productions; when there was a reference to a running off with a musician in the script, every member of the pit drew in a sharp intake of breath in unison. The wonderfully medieval costumes were designed by Renee Purdy, with Nancy Harrell assisting her. Valerie Petrillo was the show’s producer. WHS student Maria Ramirez put together the properties and Tori Campbell designed the lighting. Caleigh Petrillo did some of the choreography as part of her Capstone Project.
Watertown HS will hold the first annual Mattress Fundraiser on Saturday, April 29 in the high school gym.
Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to local Patch.com sites. Check out her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417.