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'Once Upon a Mattress' presents challenge for New Berlin students

They can't exactly lie down on the job in farcical production

Melissa Vanselow, playing the part of Princess Winnfred, and the rest of the cast rehearse “Once Upon A Mattress” in preparation for Thursday’s opening date at New Berlin West’s PAC.

Melissa Vanselow, playing the part of Princess Winnfred, and the rest of the cast rehearse “Once Upon A Mattress” in preparation for Thursday’s opening date at New Berlin West’s PAC. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Jan. 27, 2014

New Berlin — With music and dancing in a production involving 70 students, the popular farce "Once Upon a Mattress" take to the stage at New Berlin West Middle/High School this week.

"Once Upon a Mattress" will open at 7 p.m. Thursday, continuing with shows at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and matinees at 10 a.m. Friday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Three years ago, Judith Smith, director of the New Berlin West Theatre Arts Program, would not have chosen the challenging play for the troupe — "because it's a farce and that's harder to do than a straight play, in my opinion," Smith explained.

Also at that point, 95 percent of the student cast had never been in a play, but with a more robust theater program, the students are more seasoned and ready for the challenge, she said.

The plot

The play, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," looks in on a fictional medieval kingdom ruled by the devious Queen Aggravain and the mute King Sextimus the Silent. Young couples in the realm are in a fix because no one is allowed to marry until Prince Dauntless the Drab finds a princess.

A crisis comes when the leading knight of the realm, Sir Harry, discovers that his girlfriend, Lady Larken, is with child. Setting out to find a princess himself, Sir Harry discovers Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, a brash and unrefined princess from the marshlands.

Despite some rough edges, she charms Dauntless, the knights and most of the kingdom. However, she also earns the utter loathing of the evil queen, who vows to stop her.

Colorful characterizations

Melissa Vanselow, who portrays the princess, describes her as "kind of quirky but lovable."

Portraying the princess as both quirky and charming calls for a little over-the-top acting, Melissa said, but she's enjoying it.

"The biggest challenge is bringing the character into the songs," she said, noting that instead of making the songs as pretty as she can she has to thrown in a bit of the opposite in keeping with her character.

As director, Smith said she saw potential in making the play broadly appealing.

"I thought this would be a fun show for everybody all around," Smith said.

Youngsters will like it because of the color and energetic dancing, while older audience members will like the music and will appreciate the humor, she said.

The leads also include Eli Krause as Dauntless; Aubrey Trecek as Queen Aggravaine; Jenna Szalewski as Lady Larken; Zachary Karolek as Sir Harry; Trevor Whittow as the king; Alex Zerman as the jester; Evan McKenzie as the minstrel; and Dmitry Becker as the wizard.

Anita Olson, owner of Anita's Dance Center in Muskego, is doing the choreography.

Tickets can be purchased with a credit card online or with cash at the PAC box office.

For links to online sales, visit www.nbexcellence.org/community/do_communitytheater.cfm, or call (262) 789-6406.

The 10 a.m. Jan. 31 matinee is for groups of 10 or more with special ticket prices.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: musical comedy "Once Upon a Mattress"

WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 30; 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Jan. 31; 7 p.m. Feb. 1; and 2 p.m. Feb. 2

WHERE: New Berlin West Middle/High School Performing Arts Center, 18695 W. Cleveland Ave.

COST: $12 general, $10 for seniors 60 and older; $7 for students, or $5 for children

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