|Rodgers Musical is Director's Final Bow|
|Written by Marcia Fulmer|
|Tuesday, 16 June 2009 08:47|
NAPPANEE — It's been a long time since we headed for Nappanee and a production at the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre. The reason for this is well-known to those who know me but not appropriate to go into here. Enough to say that, to paraphrase an old and dear friend: We certainly were pleasantly surprised. The production, which runs through July 12 in tandem with the perennial Round Barn offering of "Plain & Fancy," is Mary Rodgers' delightful musical take on a familiar fairy tale. "Once Upon A Mattress" uses the story of "The Princess and The Pea" as a base, but here the characters are more wacky than classic.
Under the direction of the talented Jeremy Littlejohn, the show that made a star of Carol Burnett almost 50 years ago, is still as charming and funny as it was then. Not an easy task. Any vehicle built around a particular personality (think "Funny Girl") faces the job of finding an acceptable substitute.
Littlejohn cast company member Jackie Wolter as Princess Winifred the Woebegone, a role as daunting as the lady's would-be suitor Prince Dauntless the Drab (a rubber-legged Ryan Hazelback). Wolter is rather too attractive to be "woebegone," but delivers all the expected comic turns — and delivers them with a powerful belt voice. She is definitely not "Shy." The supporting players do very well with their off-kilter assignments. Crystal Day VanArtsdalen an abrasively funny Queen Aggravain, a character who more than lives up to her name. With self-pitying dialogue that is almost non-stop and a Machiavellian mindset, she serves up some hilarious moments scheming to discredit yet another possible daughter-in-law. Scott Emerick delivers his "dialogue" without words as King Septimus the Silent, but there is never any doubt about his meaning. Karen Courliss and Jim DeSelm are the requisite young lovers Lady Larken and Sir Harry and both look good and sing easily and well. Daniel Switzer is lyrically articulate as the Minstrel who serves as the narrator of the piece. He sets up the storyline and, with the Jester (a Harlequin-garbed Wesley Atkinson), obviously enjoys two of the show's comedy numbers. Don Hart is the badly-wigged Wizard, who longingly recalls his days as a vaudeville magician. The remaining five members in the cast of 14 , do double and sometimes triple duty as required by few doing the jobs many, a primary drawback in Round Barn productions. Here, however, Littlejohn has managed to direct the action so that the stage seems almost full when the entire company is on. It doesn't hurt that all have very strong voices and more than do justice to Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard and mother of Adam Guettel) music. A major improvement is the replacement of the woefully inadequate "orchestras" of past seasons with recorded tracks. Works well here. Wonder about Gilbert & Sullivan. The minimal (several moveable pillars and some medieval pennants) set with appropriate set pieces works adequately and Littlejohn also is responsible for choreography and lighting design. There's nothing like having a triple threat which is why it's the Round Barn's loss that it will no longer have Littlejohn's multi-talents. The economy was given as the reason for "down-sizing" this singer/actor/director but there is no doubt that he went out on a high note, theatrically, one which the Nappanee theater will be hard pressed to hit again. (Note: Before heading out for undoubtedly greener theatrical pastures, Jeremy will be on stage in Memorial High School July 31-Aug. 1 in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of "Footloose.")
For "Mattress" information and reservations, call 773-3722.