Saranac Lake students present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

SARANAC LAKE – This week’s production of the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” should have a little something for everyone.

The show, one of the most performed musicals in high schools and community theaters across the country, tells the Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Princess and the Pea.” The queen wants to make sure that the woman set to marry her son is a princess, so she devises a plan to put some peas under a huge stack of mattresses. If the girl feels the pesa, that means she is sensitive enough to be a princess.

Musical Director Drew Benware said it appeals to a wide age range with fun music, comedy and a story that everyone will get into.

“The songs are infectious, not only to the students but to the audience,” Benware told the Enterprise during a break in a recent rehearsal. “To have them humming and whistling and singing through the halls since January has helped solidify things.”

This year, Benware and Artistic Director Matt Sorensen tried something new with their rehearsal process. They spent about two weeks at the beginning of the process, as soon as students got back from winter break in January, focusing entirely on learning the music. The show features several larger choral numbers, and with the cast of more than 50 actors, the voices fill the auditorium on numbers like the four-part madrigal a capella number that opens the second act.

“We really had music at the core of this process, and it’s been what has propelled everything from the acting to the dancing to the set design in this piece,” Benware said. “It’s truly a musical in that the focus is on the music.”

He said they’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback on the rehearsal process.

Senior Jessica Kemp, who plays the lead character Winnifred, who’s princess status is being challenged, said she liked learning the music first. Once the songs became second nature, she could focus entirely on the blocking.

“It was different,” Kemp said. “I had never really done that before.”

The sets and costumes are meant to transport the audience into an exaggerated, cartoon-y fantasy land, with a Medievalstyle mural as the backdrop and colorful costumes that mixes in modern elements for comedic effect.

Benware calls the show a team effort, with a diverse group of characters driving the story.

Kemp said she’s had a good time creating the character, who she said is kind of crazy and “just lays it all out.”

“There’s a lot of room to just kind of be crazy and let go,” Kemp said.

Winnifred wants a happy ending, but she doesn’t quite know how to get it, Kemp said.

Senior Sean Orman plays Prince Dauntless the Drab, Winnifred’s betrothed. Orman calls his character the “epitome of a mama’s boy.” He’s used to being pushed around by his controlling mother, which is why he clings to Winnifred, another strong female character.

“It’s just a fun character to play,” Orman said. “I can be as goofy as I want.”

One of his favorite parts is the scene where his mute father is trying to explain “the birds and the bees” to him through charades, and Orman has to translate.

Orman said that working with Benware and Sorensen, as well as choreographers Katy Van Anden and Gabby Patnode, has been fun. He and Kemp have been working with Sorensen on different productions since they were children, and they always work well with him, Orman said.

“It’s always a really good group of people to work with,” he said.

Benware said that with each of the Tri-Lakes schools performing their musicals on different weekends this year, the students are trying to go see both Tupper Lake and Lake Placid’s shows as well.

“We’re all working for the same things,” Benware said. “We’re going to support each other through these processes.”

The show opens Thursday and runs Friday and Saturday as well, with each production at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or