Larson’s sense of time running out drives musical

By Wendy Carson

Welcome to 1990 and Jonathon Larson’s semi-autobiographical tale of his struggles to become a successful Broadway composer, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” While it was only a budding one-man show during his lifetime, playwright David Auburn (“Proof”) reworked the script into this beautiful Off-Broadway smash, finding its local premiere at the Phoenix Theatre.

It is the story of three friends Jon (Patrick Dinnsen), his best friend/roommate Michael (Eddie Dean) and his girlfriend Susan (Gabriela Gomez). While each has sought their future on the stage, only Jon is still true to his vision.

Michael has foregone his acting aspirations to pursue a more lucrative career as a marketing executive and is moving out to a luxurious yuppie abode. Susan still dances on occasion, but mostly earns her income trying to teach rich, untalented children ballet. While she and Jon are still in love, she can’t help but want to leave the dreariness of New York.

Meanwhile, Jon approaches his 30th birthday while mounting a workshop of “Superbia,” the musical that he is sure will be the ticket to his dreams. While he could use the support of his friends, they seem to be more focused on their own issues and he seeks solace in the arms of his lead actress.

Things then go from bad to worse, but a spark of hope still glows at the end.

Throughout the show you can see glints of impending plotlines that will end up in Larson’s masterpiece, “Rent.” It is chilling to know that his own demise was on the horizon and though he didn’t actually see it coming, he realized it was a strong possibility.

Gomez gives Susan a loving and sympathetic touch, yet never stops her from being true to herself. She also portrays numerous other characters, including Jon’s agent and the aspiring actress. Each one is endearing, highlighting her range of skills.

Dean shows Michael’s loyalty, with a distance that builds to a poignant resolution. He also fills in the numerous other roles required throughout, giving him more chances to spotlight his humorous side.

Dinnsen is superb as Jonathan, the only static character in the show. He also brings the hopefulness as well as the hopelessness of a man chasing a dream that seems insurmountable.

Under Emily Ristine Holloway’s direction, we get a lively, upbeat look at another side of Larson and what made him actually tick (before the “boom”). The show benefits from a versatile stage design by Zac Hunter that foreshadows the “Rent” set, as well as on-stage band of Ginger Stoltz, Ainsley Paton, Eddie McLaughlin, and Kristin Cutler. Having musicians visible is a nod to the way Larson originally performed this piece, and it should be noted that “Superbia” was an actual musical he worked on – one of its songs is featured in this production.

Performances run through Oct. 30 at the Phoenix, 705 N. Illinois St., Indianapolis. Get information and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.

‘Sweeney Todd’ now serving customers at Footlite

By John Lyle Belden

The dirty streets of 19th century London have been a rich source of great stories, from the fact-inspired fiction of Charles Dickens to the fiction-inspiring facts of Jack the Ripper. Out of these shadows steps “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Now, attend the tale at Footlite Musicals.

This murderous denizen of Dickens-era penny-dreadfuls is the subject of a popular 1979 musical by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler, based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. Perhaps you’ve seen the Tim Burton film, or the occasional stage show over the years. Under the direction of Josh Vander Missen, this Footlite production still manages to thrill.

Daniel Draves masterly uses his average-joe looks as the title character. Todd is just another man getting off a boat, a friendly barber – or with a small shift of expression he casts an air of menace, or even madness. He wields a sort of gravitas as well as those trademark silver blades.

Jennifer Simms is a spot-on pitch-perfect Mrs. Lovett on a par with stage and screen notables who have taken on the infamous pie shop. She needs better meat, though, and Todd needs a disposal method as he slashes his way towards long-overdue revenge – you see where this is going.

Troy Bridges is adorable in manner and voice as Anthony Hope, the sailor whose life Todd saves on their recent voyage (for Todd, who had been sent away under another name, it is his secret return from exile). Hope becomes just that as he seeks to rescue Todd’s daughter, Johanna (Christina Krawec) from the evil Judge Turpin (Ben Elliott).

While Elliott makes Turpin downright creepy, Donald Marter portrays the judge’s assistant, Beadle Bamford, as more of an amoral product of his time. You get the sense that if he were hired instead to bust heads for Mr. Todd, he’d do so with the same joy in a day’s “honest” work.

Parker Taylor excels in (pardon the expression) a meaty role as somehow-innocent youth Tobias Ragg. He’ll talk up a crowd for you, seeing it as more a game than a grift, and returns Lovett’s kindness with total devotion.

Other notable roles include Rick Barber as Todd’s rival, Adolfo Pirelli; a cameo by Dan Flahive as bedlam-keeper Jonas Fogg; and Melody Simms as the ever-present Beggar Woman.

One nice touch to this production is the opening overture is played on Footlite’s 1925 theater pipe organ (the full orchestra plays though the musical).

Set designer Stephen Matters delivers on one of the show’s true “stars,” the modified barber chair which Todd uses to dispatch and dispose of his victims, sitting upon a versatile two-story wooden frame.

Equal parts gothic thriller and dark comedy with a good serving of Sondheim, this “Sweeney Todd” is worth experiencing, or revisiting if you’ve met the man before. Performances run through Oct. 2 at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at Footlite.org.

ATI back in the habit

By John Lyle Belden

“Nunsense” is habit forming – the clever slogan, and title of one of the show’s songs, is quite apt. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser since opening Off-Broadway nearly thirty-seven years ago, this musical by Dan Goggin has had thousands of productions worldwide, and the show’s official website has at least eight sequels and spin-offs if you want to see the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing something different. The more than 25,000 actors who have donned the habit could petition the Pope to be named their own order.

This is all to say that the classic “Nunsense,” done afresh this month by Actors Theatre of Indiana, may be a bit familiar to y’all reading this. If you haven’t seen the show, or at least not in a while, by all means, go! Goggins’ humor, with just a touch of absurdity, doesn’t get too sacred and is never profane. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this, but if you are, be warned that Reverend Mother has her clicker!

The Little Sisters are in a bind, needing to raise funds quickly to bury deceased nuns (inadvertently poisoned by the convent cook), put on a show displaying their own varied talents. That’s all you need to know going in, as well as the fact that there will be a pop quiz – with prizes – at one point.

Suzanne Stark is our Rev. Mother, Sister Mary Regina. A veteran of nun roles in “Sound of Music” and “Sister Act,” she is right at home as the boss of this little sisterhood. Asserting her authority without coming off as stiff or mean, she guides this show with a steady hand – except when she doesn’t, in a hilarious encounter with a mysterious little bottle.

Illeana Kirven is Sister Mary Hubert, the second-ranking nun. She tackles this project with unflagging joyous energy, suppressing as best she can her feelings about Rev. Mother using part of their last windfall to buy a giant TV.

Katelyn Lauria is street-tough Sister Robert Ann, who drives (and repairs) the convent vehicle. Her gregarious style and frequent funny bouts of scene-stealing are nicely countered by the moment she describes her spiritual path, revealing genuine devotion.

Rachel Weinfeld is Sister Mary Leo, the novice who feels there’s room in her vows for also becoming a celebrated ballerina. Her dancing is sweet, her manner charming.

Stephanie Wahl is the ever-popular Sister Mary Amnesia, who can’t remember who she is, and is otherwise a few beads short of a rosary. Wahl, who is also dance captain, handles this special character well, keeping us laughing with her more than at her. She also does an excellent job wielding the puppet Sister Mary Annette.

Directed by Karen Sheridan with choreography by Anne Beck, this production also features the all-priest onstage band of Greg Wolf, Greg Gegogeine, and music director Jay Schwandt, as well as production assistant Gillian Norris lending a helping hand as a student from Mount St. Helens School.

See the Sisters sing and dance their way to their miracle in ATI’s season opener, through Sept 25 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

Mud Creek has its hands on something special

By John Lyle Belden

“American Dream, Japanese car.”

That line from “Hands on a Hardbody” sums up the theme of this musical, which had a brief Broadway run, but is more suited to the Heartland. Local hands have crafted it for Mud Creek Players through Sept. 24.

Based on a 1990s documentary about an actual contest, in this musical by Doug Wright with songs by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, a Nissan dealer in the small east-Texas city of Longview selects 10 contestants to stand with at least one hand touching a Hardbody pickup, with the last one who loses contact with the vehicle winning it. Dealer Mike Ferris (Joe Aiello) has ordered extra inventory to sell to onlookers, which annoys his assistant Cindy Barnes (Kathy Borgmann), but she’s hoping for the best. The event is covered live by radio station KYKX, announced by deejay Frank Nugent (Jeremy Crouch).

Benny (Onis Dean) has won this contest before, but his wife left him in that prize truck. He is full of plans and strategies to win again. Aging and injured former oil-rig worker J.D. (Chris Otterman) sees this as the chance for something to go right, as wife Virginia (Beth Ray-Scott) resents his stubborn insistence at competing yet stands by with refreshments and cool towels. Ronald (Noah Nordman) is between jobs and sees opportunities with a new truck, providing there’s no rain and he keeps his blood sugar up. Norma (Anya Andrews) sees the Lord’s Will in winning the contest, buoyed by “prayer warriors” at her church and Gospel music on her Walkman. Jacinta (Natalie Coronado Hammerle) hopes to sell the truck after winning so she can finish her veterinary degree. Janis (Jennifer J. Kaufmann) has six kids and little else, aside from a devoted cheerleader of a husband, Don (Collin Moore). Chris (Nicholas Gibbs), out of the Marines long enough to have grown his hair, doesn’t say much. Greg (Matthew Blandford) is a young, out-of-work dreamer. Equally fresh-faced Kelli (Nicole Crabtree) has a job but could use a better vehicle. Heather (Carolyn Lynch) acts like just being a hot blonde is enough to make her win – and unbeknownst to others, she may be right.

Also on hand are judge and timekeeper Lilly (Kirsten Cutshall), event medic Dr. Stokes (Sophie Peirce), and Service Dept. mechanics Miki (Lauren Bogart), A.J. (Ahnn Christopher) and Jerry (Peyton Rader). The on-stage band are Ben Craighead, Craig Kemp, Katie Ryan, Jill Stewart, and leader Linda Parr.

The true star, of course, is “Ruby,” the body of a 1997 Nissan pickup. Director Michelle Moore said Mud Creek volunteers fixed up the impressive prop so that it looks brand new, complete with shining red paint job, working tailgate and doors, bed one can climb into, seats, and functional headlights and horn.*

This kind of situation lends itself to a lot of humor, like Kaufmann’s charming take on the straight-talking redneck mama, and a bit of intrigue (what exactly is Mike up to?). It also examines the extreme edge of American competitive spirit. For those familiar with it, this show is like a less-tragic version of the dance-marathon classic “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” complete with the mental and physical consequences of forced exhaustion. As Stokes notes, staying awake for what will be 90-plus hours is a tactic used in other countries to torture prisoners. Benny understands this, exploiting the fraying tempers and confidence of fellow competitors – giving Dean a lot to work with in his complex character. We also get an insight into past stresses, such as Chris’s experiences in the first Gulf War, and the frustration of ethnic assumptions, as Jacinta bristles at having to point out she was “Born in Laredo.”

Characters to root for include Norma, as Andrews has us feeling her pain when the Spirit is weak, as well as Greg and Kelli, with their growing feelings and a fateful decision that changes their lives.  

So, who ends up with the truck? That’s kinda beside the point (and a huge spoiler) but this tale does come with a satisfying ending, as well as the what-happens-next lines by each of the main cast during the last songs.  

With the friendly confines of the Mud Creek “Barn,” its excellent stage set (cleverly designed by Moore), and Dani Gibbs choreography that even has the truck “dancing” to the stage edge, there is an immersive element to “Hands on a Hardbody” that makes this as much an experience as a play, complete with a final song with chorus we are invited to join in on.  

Our shortcut to the Lone Star State is 9740 E. 86th St., Indianapolis. For tickets and information, visit MudCreekPlayers.org.

(*Moore said the pickup prop – which has no engine to weigh it down or leak on stage, a reinforced hood an actor can climb on, and sets of casters it rests on for easy movement – will be available after this run to a company that wants to mount a production of this musical. Contact her via the website for details.)   

IndyFringe: Doghouse Moon

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Let me begin by awarding this troupe the Best Program and Cast Bios in the festival this year.

This show is particularly hard to explain. “Doghouse Moon,” by Matt McDonald and the band Camp Culture, is part concert, part sci-fi epic, part skit show, part social commentary, and entirely hilarious.

After an opening song welcoming us to the world, we meet up with Tanner (McDonald) and Doc (Eric Marquis), who literally carries the fate of the world in his hands. We then find Beige (Shelby Myers) hosting “Looking Like Cooking” where today’s dish is chicken sushi wrapped in bacon. After a brief commercial and a plug for her latest invention, we are privy to the story of how she spent her 21st birthday.

We then rejoin Doc searching within himself for answers; however, he is being harassed/distracted by Herman (Luke Lowrance), a devious hat thief. We next join Chet Chuckles (Michael Muldowney) at Chuckleberry Finn’s, where the death of his precious fish, Joel McScale, has left him unable to make anyone laugh.

The exploits and stories of these five souls play out in story and song throughout the show – until we reach the grand moment when they must band together with Jim (Jacob Worrell) to save the earth.

It’s hard to explain how funny this is without giving away some of the best jokes, but my favorite parts were: Big Bob’s Discount Therapy Racket; the song about writing a song; Herman’s costume (straight out of the 1969 Sears catalogue); and as mentioned before, the program.

Remaining performances are 7 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3-4, at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Local youth ensemble Agape Theater Company goes with something more whimsical than their usual serious projects with “Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales,” a musical by Mary Hall Surface and David Maddux that presents familiar fairy tales as they would be told in the mountains of rural Virginia or North Carolina.

This show is also a little different for Agape as it highlights its younger performers, which enhances the innocent fun of the stories’ presentation. In this production, we get three tales you’ve heard before, but not quite like this:

In “Jack and the Wonder Bean,” directed by Brynn Hensley, crafty Jack (Rachel Majorins) climbs the beanstalk to encounter a huge Giantess (Anastasia Lucia, with puppet support by Nate and Jacob Osburn) and escapes back home to his Ma (Harmony Quinn), bringing goods including a magic Hen (Caroline Hildebrand) and enchanted Fiddle (Evangeline Hillebrand).

In the hoe-down song-and-dance number “The Sow and Her Three Pigs,” directed by Kiron Branine and Rebekah Barajas, narrators Ellie Barajas and Rachel Majorins tell of a Mama-pig (Laney Ballard) who worries what her offspring will do after she is gone. Martha (Nora Moster) and Mary (Joanna Barajas) go cheap on building materials, while Nancy (Eden Majorins) finds something even stronger than bricks. Here comes the Fox (Flannery Partain), hungry for bacon. The simple set includes a cloud-wagon for deceased piggies to sit on while awaiting their relatives’ fate, while most of the cast get involved in the do-si-dos (the dance, not the cookie).

Finally, we get the Cinderella variant, “Catskins,” directed by Grant Scott-Miller. An orphan girl (Lacey Pierce) finds a home with a Farmer (Aubri Cottrell) and his Wife (Harmony Quinn). When the Wife dies, the Farmer, embittered by grief, becomes abusive. The spirit of her adopted mother comes to Catskins’ aid with the help of a magic trunk, and the girl ends up a servant to a fine Lady (Anastasia Lucia) and her Daughter (Flannery Partain). It happens that in that land, a Rich Boy (Jacob Osburn) is holding fancy dances to find himself a bride. Our heroine is a bit crafty and doesn’t need talking mice to help her in this interesting version of the old tale.

The presentation is fun and entertaining, and the Giantess puppet is impressive. Remaining performances are 1:45 p.m. Saturday and 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27-28, in the Basile Auditorium at the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: When Jesus Divorced Me

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

Laura Irene Young has had an unusual relationship with Jesus.

I’m not referring to Our Lord and Savior – she says that will be the topic of another show. She actually married a man who portrayed Christ in an Orlando Christian theme park; ironically, he forsook her for the woman playing Mary Magdalene.

Laura relates her story in “When Jesus Divorced Me,” which she makes a musical with the help of her ukulele.

With ambitions of Broadway, Laura got into a professional summer-stock company, where she met Pharoah – rather, a guy playing the role in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” As she put it, “Did you like someone so much, you wanted to vomit?” She managed to keep her stomach but lost her heart. After the summer, they had a long-distance relationship that got much closer, and eventually, to Florida.

I’ll leave the rest for you to find out, as she tells it much better than I ever could. Despite his presence in the title, we don’t learn as much about unnamed ersatz-Jesus as we do about this interesting woman and her interesting life, told with engaging candor. Find out how “God’s plan” involved a lot of crying, that new hobbies aren’t always good, and how she knows he still has their wedding presents.

Presented by Magic Feather Productions, this lovely one-woman show is only during the opening weekend of IndyFringe, with performances 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 (today, as I post this), and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, in the Athenaeum.

IndyFringe: QAnon The Musical!

This is part of IndyFringe 2022, Aug. 18-Sept. 4 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Congratulations!  You have scored a ticket to the taping of the hottest children’s show, “The Truth Team.” After learning about the ozone layer last week and how fast we will all cook in the sun without it, we are excitedly turning to this week’s topic, QAnon.

Stage manager Kate (Jaddy Ciucci) wrangles everyone together and the show is off and running. The Truth Team (you can trust them) consists of Joe (Joe Cameron), Brendan (Brendan Hawkins), Ryan (Ryan Richards), and their lovable Rhino Eugene (Noah Cameron).

After we sing about our feelings, we begin breaking down the world that is QAnon and the mysterious “Q” that is behind it all.

Q is described as like The Wizard of Oz, but with less credibility. He puts the Myth in Mythological, then removes the Logical. We also learn the three vital components to all QAnon Conspiracy Theories: (1) a Celebrity; (2) a Class “C” felony (those hit the sweet spot and aren’t too severe to not be believable); and, of course, (3) say anything about Antifa. The more insane the conspiracy, the better.

We also have a brief interlude by their science man to teach us about electricity, but we are then reminded that QAnon does not believe in science. Q says that only Pedophiles listen to science.

We also have insights into the personal stores of the cast during the multitude of two-minute breaks. The most entertaining of these are the ones dealing with finger-guns. The sheer hilarity of these sections alone is worth seeing the show.

Throughout the various songs and scenes, we are reminded that life is hard, choices must be made, and we are all vulnerable, yet strong. The story culminates with Eugene breaking the sacred rule of mascots and giving an impassioned soliloquy about the fact that saying crazy stuff is part of what created our country, but we shouldn’t let that stoke our hatred.

Presented by Un5gettable, “QAnon: The Musical” is a delight for all ages (they keep the language clean). The cast supremely embody the sweet charm of children’s show hosts without ever being condescending to their audience.

Bring the whole family out and catch this show. Word is getting around, and I expect sell-outs for most if not all of their remaining performances, Aug. 20, 27 and 28, Sept 1 and 3, on the IndyFringe Basile stage, 719 E. St. Clair.

Agape youth willing to ‘rumble’ with tough topics

By John Lyle Belden

Agape Theater Company, a middle- through high school youth program hosted by Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic Church, has a particular approach. It takes on classic stage works – from Shakespeare to Broadway – with an eye to the moral and spiritual lessons they hold. In June, they tackled the subject of a Tony winner with now two Oscar-winning film productions: “West Side Story.”

(Various excuses I could give prevented Wendy and I from attending opening weekend, but Agape invited us for the closing.)

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the mid-20th century musical is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” with feuding families replaced by rival street gangs: the Jets, white kids whose working-class families are getting pinched by Manhattan’s building boom; and the Sharks, young immigrants from Puerto Rico hoping for their own American Dream. Personally, I think the “Story” is a little better than in R&J, as the tension and stakes are a little more real with a clash of two cultures, and Tony (our stand-in for Romeo) is, while still a lovesick fool, less immaturely foolish than that boy in Fair Verona. Plus, there are those cool songs (reeeal cool).

Directed by Kathy Phipps with musical director April Barnes, the young cast gave a top-notch performance. The present medical concerns that put a lot of understudies and swings on the stage in New York also struck here, yet the company managed to roll with the changes, with only a couple of cancellations, and making cast changes without losing a step.

Bursting with talent and Latinx pride are Rebekah Barajas as Maria, Jaelynn Keating as Anita, and Cordale Hankins as Sharks leader Bernardo. Leading the Jets with an ever-tense feeling their turf is slipping away are smooth Riff (Grant Scott-Miller, u/s Nathan Ellenberger) and hot-headed Action (Clayton Mutchman), who long for their true leader, Tony (Johnny Gaiffe, u/s Caleb Wilson) to take charge. But Tony has a real job, and senses real possibilities (“Something’s Coming”) but as the saying goes, “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet.” The gangs want to have the rumble (gang-fight) to end all rumbles, with the terms set at the neutral-ground school dance. Tony and Maria are each reluctant to attend, but they go – they meet – and their fates are set.

Other tensions include the cops, ever-present but always a step behind (and the butt of the joke in one song). More subtle is the hint dropped by Bernardo that Tony is called “Pollack” behind his back, not even fully respected by his fellow Caucasians. In today’s climate, we especially feel for “tomboy” Anybodys (Aleah Mutchman, u/s Jocelyne Brake) and the desire to join a hoodlum gang being their only hope for being “one of the boys.”

The dancing and acting were superb – having actors the ages of their characters helped – as were the voices, heartbreaking at times. Still, despite the fun moments, the story is still a tragedy. There was no backing down from the dark moments, complete with believable anguish.

In a promotional video, the principal cast spoke of the emotional burden they were taking on, and of being true to all who have done these roles before. When asked what they hoped the audience would take away, the unanimous answer was that all would take time to look past people’s differences and let go of hate. They did well towards accomplishing that mission.

Agape will next perform at IndyFringe in August, with “Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales.” They also return to Indy Bard Fest this fall with Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” For more information, including supporting this 501c3, visit agapetheatercompany.com.

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.