Relax with CrazyLake’s ‘Mattress’

By John Lyle Belden

CrazyLake Acting Company brings fun and fairy tale romance to the stage with “Once Upon a Mattress,” the comedy musical by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer based on the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Princess and the Pea” (the 1959 Broadway production was notable for making Carol Burnett a star).

A Minstrel (Matt Little) gives us the popular version of the tale – acted out by Ellie Stearns, Charles Wallace, and Aria Studabaker – then proceeds to introduce how it “really” happened. 

Queen Aggravain (Noelle Russell) is solidly in control of the kingdom, with husband King Sextimus (Trever Brown) mute from a curse. It is decreed that no one may marry until her son Prince Dauntless (Chris O’Connor) takes a bride – who must be a genuine Princess. The Queen is sole arbiter of what “genuine” means, and with a willing accomplice Wizard (Coy Hutcherson) comes up with tests that somehow every visiting Princess fails. Lady Larken (Alex Gawrys-Strand), the senior Lady-in-Waiting, finds she really can’t wait to wed Sir Harry (Cael Savidge), so the noble knight sets forth to find a suitable Princess. The Queen sends him to the Swamplands, as surely no nobility lives there. Yet he returns with a pretty girl, bearing a crown and a pedigree – who stuns the court by swimming the moat to reach the castle.

Dauntless is in love, Aggravain is appalled, and damp dame Princess Winnifred (Katie Brown) is ready for whatever test Her Majesty comes up with. After such a crude introduction, this new contestant would surely fail a “sensitivity” test – time to order 20 mattresses.

Aside from a full cast of Knights and Ladies, we also have the antics of the Jester (Alec Cole) who is joined by the King and the Minstrel for some subversive comic relief.

Directed by Christine Schaefer and Amy Studabaker, the show features a lot of hilarity and entertaining song-and-dance, including the popular songs, “Shy!” and “Happily Ever After.” Russell is deliciously dastardly as our wicked Queen, while Trever Brown exhibits great miming and physical comedy as the randy King. O’Connor plays Dauntless a little naive and a touch spoiled, but still likable – downright adorable as the kid aching for his first kiss. Savidge manages a cool Lancelot-light portrayal, while Gawrys-Strand keeps Larken on an emotional edge without going overboard. Hutcherson makes a dandy toady. Little and Cole ably play their supporting parts, especially the latter in a nice dance number with the Jester’s father, Sliding Peter Jingle, smoothly danced by Dana Hart.

Appropriately, Katie Brown is the real deal: brilliant in acting, singing, dancing, and comic timing. (Her first scene coming on like a sort of Medieval redneck had me thinking she’d be perfect in “Annie Get Your Gun.”) Her Princess “Fred” is the kind of royalty nearly anyone could fall in love with.

A wonderful diversion from the outside heat and hassles, “Once Upon a Mattress” opens Friday and runs through July 17 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), Greenfield. Discount tickets are available at Hometown Comics (1040 N. State St.); for information see CrazyLakeActing.com.

Kids make a splash in KidsPlay’s ‘Mermaid in Miami’

By John Lyle Belden

Being a former writer and “Arts Editor” at the Daily Reporter in Greenfield, I have long followed and been a booster of KidsPlay Inc., the local children’s theatre featuring kids in grades 3-8 from all over the area. Under the direction of Christine Schaefer, the company puts on a high-quality show, and has helped to develop a lot of talent – a number of central Indiana performers are former KidsPlayers, and now there are alumni with their own children in the program.

Of course, I bring this up because this week is the KidsPlay Inc. fall production, the quirky comedy “Mermaid in Miami” by Wade Bradford. Directed by Schaefer with Alexandra Kern, choreography by Frances Hull and Amy Studebaker, this take on “The Little Mermaid” has a contemporary setting, yet is in a surprising way true to the Hans Christian Andersen story.

An old fisherman, Ernie (Joseph Shininger), happens to come across a young mermaid, Breeze (Olivia Greer), on the run from her tyrannical father Emperor Tropico (Matthew Hentz). As she had escaped with her mother, now missing, the angry monarch asks Ernie if he has seen two mermaids, so he honestly answers “no,” helping Breeze to escape. Grateful, she stays in the safety of the lagoon the fisherman calls home, located just a beach away from Miami, Florida.

Meanwhile, on that beach, hot Latin dancer Rico (Jaxon Brittsan) is ready for the local dance contest, he just needs a partner. The Lambada sisters (Zora Coe and Ashley Pipkin) are injured, and best friend Grace (Ella Miesse) he only sees as his tailor. But hearing of the opportunity, Breeze makes a deal with the Swamp Hag (Bella Turner) for legs so he can join Rico in the dance.

Naturally, those legs come at a cost.

The large cast also includes Anthony Stunda and Josie Joyner as dolphins Ebb and Flo, who provide a lot of the punchlines; Brodie Stout-England as Prince Dorkus, the Emperor’s goofy hand-picked fiance for Breeze; Jordan Kuker as the mysterious Spirit of the Air; Hank Lee and Ava Peters as local reporters; Abbagail Gantt and Cooper Schmitt as vendors with well-timed wares; and Jack Joyner, Grace McCaw, and Lucy Reed, as an entertaining trio of crabs.

This show has excellent performances throughout. Greer shows off some great physical comedy, as she nimbly portrays a wobbly girl who just got her legs minutes ago, right through the obligatory dance montage where she learns to move with rhythm.

Turner is appropriately menacing, and manages to keep a Caribbean accent without it slipping into caricature. Hentz is naturally haughty, while Shininger plays a good go-with-the-flow guy. Miesse stitches together a role with surprising range. Stout-England is too much of a doofus to dislike, despite his role in Tropico’s plot.

Brittsan not only manages to stay likable even while being a bit cheesey, but also he, Coe and Pipkin show off some genuine dance flair, including leading the traditional opening dance number before the play.

As usual, this show is a lot of fun, but there is some substance with the silly, especially in the way this story ends. Performances are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8-10, at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in downtown Greenfield. Tickets are just $5 at the door.