Review: 'Once Upon A Mattress' at Musicals at Richter

Nancy Sasso Janis

 The outdoor stage at Musicals at Richter in Danbury was transformed to a faraway kingdom for the first production of their season, 'Once Upon a Mattress.' This is one of the two shows that produced in their very first season back in 1985, making MAR our state's longest running outdoor theatre. The board of directors welcomed back Bradford Blake to direct this show that opens their season with a splash. Everyone's "Uncle Brad" is the founding artistic director and "guiding light" of MAR and his direction makes this production thirty years later a fine one.

Because the show opened during my high school graduation marathon, I could only make a performance during their closing weekend. I was surrounded by patrons enjoying high class picnics and the atmosphere in the kingdom was a festive one. My golf cart driver who brought be to the entrance from the parking lot told me that the cool evening was the perfect weather for an outdoor show and he was right. My citronella candle, long clothing and lots of bug spray worked well to protect me from insect bites.
In this light and lovely retelling of the fairy tale of "The Princess and the Pea," there is love, singing and dancing and lots of laughter, complete with pop culture references that brought a smile. The cast looked amazingly royal in their regalia from Beyond Costumes and were lit beautifully by RKE Productions and Ben Furniss. The castle scenery was functional and pretty and turrets also served as the stage for the prologue's puppet show narrated by the minstrel.
Tom Morris conducted the nearby orchestra in their portable garage and Mr. Blake did the eye-catching choreography. The 'Spanish Panic' sequence was certainly unique.
The cast included some MAR veterans in key roles. Robert Bria opened the musical strong as the wandering minstrel and never looked back. Musical theater major Jessica Schwartz showed off her voice made for Disney musicals as a true lady in waiting named Larkin who wants nothing more than to marry the dashing Sir Harry, played by tenor Jacob Eventoff. She can't do that until the queen finds a suitable princess bride for her son, Prince Dauntless the Drab (played well by Billy Dempster.) Ted Schwartz (Jessica's dad) was a riot as the king who may have Sextimus the Silent but pantomimed plenty. Todd Santa Maria had a lot to do as the royal jester who translates for the king and Matt Austin was the family's wizard.

Priscilla Squires was a royal pain as the verbose Queen Aggravain (her name says it all.) Done up in an ornate royal ensemble, the seasoned actress brought the insufferable matriarch to life and remembered a royal boatload of lines while doing so. While some may not have recognized her face under her costume, I could never miss her queenly voice and comic timing.

When Jessica Smith bounded on the stage as Princess Winifred the Woebegone having just swam the moat, she made quite the entrance. Ms. Smith is a professional singer, voice teacher, musical and dramatic director that has the acting chops to pull off the role of the plucky princess Fred. I loved watching her performance.
Laura Gello, Emma Giorgio (also Prologue Queen,) Sara Louise Keough (also Princess 12,) Lexi Tobin (also Prologue Princess) and Daisy Stott (also Nightingale of Samarkand) danced and sang as the ladies in waiting and had voices to match their lovely visages. Richard Frey, Thomas Keough, Andrew Kocur, Noah Matson (also Prologue Prince) and Alexis M. Vournazos delivered strong performances as "Sirs." Many of these young adults attend nearby WSCU.
Final performances of 'Once Upon A Mattress are Friday and Saturday evening, June 26 and 27. Grounds open at 7:15 p.m. for picnicking, with the show beginning at 8:30 p.m. Staged on the grounds of the Richter Arts Center, 100 Aunt Hack Road, in Danbury, performances take place outdoors under the stars.

Photos by David Henningsen Photograpy

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