Eleven Charlotte-area high school students are competing in the new theater criticism category of the Blumey Awards, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ annual musical theater awards program (read more about that here.) Each student writes three reviews; the following is one entry:
With its bright costumes, storybook sets and bold characters, Marvin Ridge High School’s “Once Upon a Mattress” transported the audience to the pages of a fairytale at 7:30 p.m. on March 9.
The play begins with a simple yet impressive dance number as the original story of The Princess and the Pea is narrated by John Pope as the minstrel. Pope carries the show through his continued narration as he maintains his high energy level and a strong connection with the audience. He guides the audience as they are transported to a fictional medieval kingdom where no one is allowed to marry until Prince Dauntless (played by Matt Roper) finds a wife suitable to his mother, Queen Aggravain (played by Madison Davis) (a near impossible feat). The noble Sir Harry (played by Calvin Shanahan) sets off to find a suitable princess when he discovers his girlfriend, Lady Larkin (played by Lex Lombardo) is expecting, and he returns with a princess who turns the kingdom upside down.
The solid performances by the cast brought this fairytale off the script pages. Jordan Yankowenko captured the hearts of the audience before the end of her first song. Her portrayal of Princess Winnifred (call her by her nickname- Fred) kept the audience laughing from the moment she entered the stage to long after she exited, and left the audience waiting on the edge of their seats for her return. Yankowenko matched Fred’s outgoing personality with her fearless voice and perfect comedic timing.
Countering Fred’s boldness and bringing a bit of balance to the show was Matt Roper as Prince Dauntless. Roper brought a charming naiveté that was highlighted in humorous exchanges between the prince, his mute father (King Sextimus, played by Jeremy Appel, who managed to project to the back row of the auditorium without saying a word) and his overbearing mother (Madison Davis portrayed Aggravain as the scheming villain the audience loved to hate), who not-so-secretly wants to keep her darling Dauntless from marrying.
The strong performances were necessary to stand out against the striking set, a moveable 2-D castle painted in bright colors. The sides of the castle were easily adjusted to show a transition into another colorful room of the palace, maintaining an illusion of being inside a fairytale book for the audience. The lively set captivated the audience, without overpowering the performances or taking up too much valuable stage space.
It became clear early on in the show why it was so important to keep so much of the stage open: choreographer Alex Leppert and assistant choreographer Jon Warner aimed to astound with high-energy ensemble dance numbers, and astound they did. The ensemble’s “Spanish Panic” showed a remarkable amount of dedication and cooperation within the cast, as Leppert and Warner transformed the cast of high schoolers into credible dancers.
The musical continued on in a successful series of bold choices: the Jester (played by Ryan Wentz) is joined in the middle of a musical number by the Marvin Ridge theatre teacher to indulge the audience in a charming tap dance.
These bold choices meshed together to provide a cohesive show that promised to be memorable.