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PLAY REVIEW.... Stage Left’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ will leave you happily ever after

January 17, 2011

The Stage Left Players of Lisbon's current youth theater production of the Mary Rogers-Marshall Berer-Dean Fuller-Jay Thompson musical, "Once Upon a Mattress" is a delightful evening of entertainment for the whole family.

Director Kandace Cleland, who also choreographed the show, and musical director Jodine Pilmer have assembled a cast of very talented high school and middle school students for a wonderful retelling of the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea.

Caroline Bennett is smart, funny and beautiful as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone. Bennett is totally fearless in meeting the physical comedy demands of the part, sometimes channeling Carol Burnett. But Bennett also adds an innocent sexiness and a dancer's grace to the comic athleticism the role requires. She also has a fine singing voice.

Levi Ridgeway is hilarious as Prince Dauntless the Drab, a mama's boy whose mama doesn't want him to get married. Ridgeway projects a goofy charm that makes him a perfect match for his Princess, especially when they sing together.

Allie Dolphin is wonderfully wicked as Queen Aggravain, reveling in her plots to foil every would-be bride for her only son, and not caring that no one else in the kingdom may wed until Dauntless does. She has a strong singing voice and a quick wit that are perfect for the part.

Dolphin is matched admirably by her partner in crime, the Wizard, played by Cody De Ramo, whose strong speaking and singing voice are just right for the part. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his Arabian Nights costume and Samurai hairstyle, both of which distract from an otherwise fine characterization.

Brad Cox and Elise Szabo make a charming couple as Sir Harry and Lady Larken, and act and sing well together. Justin Jickess does an excellent job as the Jester, interacting nicely with his character's close friends, the Minstrel and the King, really shining in their featured song.

Dexter Witherow does a fine job as the Minstrel, and has a pleasant singing voice, but he needs to project more. His love interest, Lady Merrill, played by the lovely Mariah Powell, also has a fine voice, but no projection problems, as evidenced in her solo on "Normandy."

Jacob Ward steals every scene he's in as King Sextimus, rendered mute by a curse. Ward does more with a gesture and a facial expression than most actors do with pages of dialogue. He's also an excellent physical comedian, and clearly enjoys himself when the character is in a Harpo Marx-like, girl-chasing mode.

Samantha Armstrong is impressive as Lucas, the Wizard's apprentice, as is Christina Fonner as Princess 12, the last royal to fail the test before Winnifred comes on the scene. Kandace Cleland has a very funny cameo as the Nightingale of Samarkand.

Camille Bagnola, Francesca Bagnola, Mia Bagnola, Kamlie Beshara, Sophie Brunet, Leah Emmerling, Alaina Fuller, Emily Holmes, Paige Johnson, Celeste Julian and Jackie Lydic all contribute to the success of the production as ladies-in-waiting. The same may be said for Knights Rosie Bresson, Spenser Cox, Andrew Lestscher and Nathan Kuhns.

The three-piece orchestra, consisting of Jodine Pilmer on Keyboard, Dan Kalosky on Bass and Stephen Ley on drums, convey beautifully the jazzy sensibility of the score.

"Once Upon A Mattress" will be presented again January 21 and 22 at 7:00 p.m. and January 23 at 2 p.m. at the Stage Left Players' Trinity Playhouse. Call ahead for reservations at 330-831-7249. I give this production my highest recommendation for family audiences.

Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, Ohio, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 30 years.



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