The music of Broadway is coming to the Elmira District Secondary School auditorium with the school’s production of Once Upon A Mattress, the comical retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, The Princess and the Pea.
The story takes places in a small kingdom during medieval times, where Prince Dauntless is looking for a bride. A dozen girls have already been tested and rejected as unsuitable by his mother, Queen Aggravain. Enter Princess Winnifred who is instantly disliked by the queen and thus begins the hijinks of the play.
“It is a complete and wonderful comedy with elements of farce in it – it’s got jokes for the adults and jokes for the kids. It is almost like coming and watching a live-action Shrek, it is just very funny to watch,” said EDSS drama teacher and director DJ Carroll. “It is full of songs and dances and it all takes place in a fairytale kingdom.”
Being a Broadway show, the music is a step up from normal high school productions but Carroll assures his 50 actors are up for the task.
Auditions were tough for the seasoned director as he was looking for students that had the triple threat of dancing, singing and acting.
“There is a very fine balancing game as the director that I have to walk when I was casting my leads – it is rare to get both acting and singing abilities in an actor and put on top of that dancing,” said Carroll. “People joke about that but it is serious: our leads need to do all three and in this play we have some extremely talented kids.”
Students have taken more responsibility with this production, noted Carroll, who says he is pleased that he is able to trust them with some very important tasks.
“I am creating a group of kids that know they can do it and they don’t need to sit there and wait for my answer or decision.”
There are 18 song-and-dance numbers in the show, so Carroll decided to build a dance team, giving each member two dances to choreograph, taking the stress off one or two people doing the entire show.
One of those members is Grade 12 student Alyssa Tomlin who plays Lady Merle in the show.
Tomlin would listen for hours on end to the two songs she had to prepare and would picture the different characters that were on stage during those songs to help build her routines.
“It helped me to start thinking about what I wanted to see out there,” said Tomlin. “I have been dancing for about five years and part of that requirement was that we create our own dance routines. I have done musicals before, but the harmonies in this one are so challenging – they sound amazing when you get them. It has a great story to it, it is funny and serious and it is a well-rounded show.”
For the 18 students working behind the scenes the musical is the largest production most of them have worked on.
“This is a big undertaking as far as production level,” said Carroll. “They are working their butts off backstage to make sure everything goes well.”
Rehearsals started at the end of September and the cast and crew are in the final countdown to opening night on Dec. 8, with the show running through Dec. 10.
The school will once again hold its traditional public school show where more than 300 grade school students from the area are invited to see the performance.
The EDSS students will have a chance to share with the younger kids during a question-and-answer period after the performance and the children will get a chance to interact with the actors.
“A lot of the grade school kids have done some small dramas or are doing or will be doing it, and this is a little bit of a treat for them to see what they can do once they get to high school,” said Carroll.
Tickets are on sale and can be purchased from cast members or by calling the school at 519-669-5414, ext. 415. The Saturday afternoon show is scheduled for families, with tickets priced at $15 for the whole family.