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Mercy McAuley High School's ONCE UPON A MATRESS

The lady is one man shy! A newly arrived Princess Winifred (Ali Lewis) leads the Ensemble of Mercy McAuley’s Once Upon a Mattress in “Shy.”

Review by Katie Berich, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

Mercy McAuley’s Once Upon a Mattress wasn’t just another bedtime story–this fresh take on a classic fairytale brought a delightful blend of whimsy and comedy to the stage with spirited performances and magical tech.

Once Upon a Mattress is a comedic retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s“The Princess and the Pea” that hit Broadway in 1959. Set in a far away kingdom, the story follows a royal family as they search for a suitable princess to marry their beloved Prince Dauntless. Chaos ensues when Princess Winifred emerges from the swamp to vie for the prince’s hand. Though she seems to be the antithesis of a proper princess, Winifred proves her regality when a pea left under twenty mattresses leaves her unable to sleep, and is thus allowed to marry the prince. Filled with lively songs, quirky characters, and humorous antics, Once Upon a Mattress is a timeless classic that’s sure to please crowds of any age.

Mercy McAuley presented an exuberant production that brimmed with character. They highlighted sustainability by using almost exclusively recycled and donated materials to construct their costumes and set, giving the show charming homemade touches. Performances from lead and featured actors alike furthered the authenticity of the production with unique portrayals of the show’s far-out characters.

Ali Lewis demanded attention from the second she stepped out of the moat as Princess Winifred. Her charming portrayal captured the spirit of the unconventional princess, utilizing bold physical choices to emphasize Winifred’s unabashed determination. Opposite Lewis, Andrew Childers delivered a tasteful performance as Prince Dauntless, skillfully balancing naivety and sincerity.

Sofia Schaffer (Minstrel), Abby Sewell (Jester), and Niki Essen (King Sextimus) formed a dynamic trio in their show-stopping number “The Minstrel, The Jester, and I.” Essen’s ability to convey character with just use of mime was simply hilarious. Not to be forgotten was Madalyn Emery as the Nightingale of Samarkand–though her stage time was small, her squawks were mighty.

Functionality was a common theme in the technical aspects of Once Upon a Mattress. Set design by Lucy Fulmer and Dominique Hohmeister featured three modular pieces that served both as castle walls and as interior scenes, such as a throne room. Lucy Baier’s costume design maintained a consistent aesthetic while also allowing for ample movement. Hair and makeup by Abby Vance and Lalah West kept hair out of performer’s faces while also allowing their characters to shine through–the Jester sported an adorable bubble braid style that gave her the freedom to dance without sacrificing the quirks of her character.

Cast and crew at Mercy McAuley put forth an energetic, joyful performance. Abound with impressive acting, vocals, and choreography, Once Upon a Mattress was captivating from start to finish.

The Minstrel, Jester, and Lady Larken (Sofia Schaffer, Abby Sewell, Lydia Wright) dream of Normandy.

Review by Alexandra Hess, Campbell County High School Critic Team

Once upon a time, in a far off land, a genuine young princess fell in love with a gloomy prince…or so it has been told. The true story of the princess and the pea, however, is a much more fascinating tale. Mercy McAuley High School’s staging of this original fairytale: Once Upon a Mattress, brings the truth of this classic children's story to life.

A collaboration between Mary Rodgers, Marshall Barer, Jay Thompson, and Dean Fuller, Once Upon a Mattress is a 1959 musical comedy centered in a fictional kingdom of medieval Europe. The show is a popular exaggerated satirical piece concerning the court-life of the 15th-century that creates a humorous production filled with animated dance numbers, bold vocal compositions, and rib-tickling comedic dialogues.

The vivacious energy that is brought to the stage by all members of Mercy McAuley’s production truly shows their commitment to every aspect of the show. The leading characters, as well as the large ensemble, always eagerly engaged within their scenes, which cohesively blended them into this lively fantasy. Their behind-the-scenes crews also brought extraordinary dedication to the stage through their creative thinking and innovative resourcefulness.

From her stylized physicality to her vibrant improvisational skills, Ali Lewis fully embraced her role as the adventurous Princess Winifred. Lewis’s portrayal of her character never lacked animated facial expressions and bold acting choices, her admirable enthusiasm truly demonstrates her talent as a fearlessly confident performer. Never far away from Winifred, Prince Dauntless begins the story as a childish and naïve boy. Andrew Childer’s performance expertly expresses his character’s arc through his hilarious and compelling interactions with everyone on stage. His embodiment of the character fully encompasses the mindset and characteristics of the prince.

This cast had no shortage of talent, with powerful vocalists, skilled dancers, and cleverly cast comedians, the show’s vast expanse of skill-sets created interest and variety among the characters. Lydia Wright’s (Lady Larken) stunning soprano tone resonated throughout the theatre, displaying her beautiful vibrato and clear diction in every song. Niki Essen, who played King Sextimus the Silent, was impressively able to deliver many jokes and humorous gags without the utilization of any speaking lines up until the ending scene. Another member of the court, the Jester, played by Abby Sewell, was a passionate dancer with strong lines and flowing movements. Sewell’s ability to stay with the beat of the music while still delivering a strong comedic performance allowed her to stand out as the kingdom’s favorite harlequin.

The technical elements of this production were particularly unique due to the crew's use of recyclable materials. Many of the show’s costumes, props, and sets were “upcycled” from various items donated to or found by Mercy McAuley’s Theatre Department. Notably, the Set Crew (Lucy Fulmer, Dominique Hohmeister, and crew) created medieval-style stained glass windows using cabinet drawers and old lighting gels. The Marketing and Publicity team, led by Ali Lewis, went above and beyond to create unique promotional videos, post interesting content, as well as secure a news interview for their production.

So when this “Song of Love'' came to a close, the cheers were loud and the audience rose. For when the show had been filled with laughter, then their story may end in happily ever after.

King Sextimus (Niki Essen) is relieved when Prince Dauntless (Andrew Childers) finally understands their “talk.”

Review by Ariana Dickenson, School For Creative and Performing Arts Critic Team

In the world of fairytales, everything always seems just right. Each princess gets her prince as she is perfectly delicate and delicately perfect. However, that is not the truth for the tale presented in Once Upon A Mattress, a musical produced with whimsy this past weekend at Mercy McAuley High School.

Once Upon A Mattress was written by playwrights Marshall Barer, Jay Thompson, and Dean Fuller, and its music was composed by Mary Rodgers. It was originally published in May of 1959, and opened on Broadway in November of that year. As a comedic adaptation of the fairytale The Princess and the Pea, Once Upon A Mattress follows Prince Dauntless, Queen Aggravain, King Sextimus the Silent, and members of the royal court as they search for a princess for the young prince to marry. Each princess up for his hand had to be tested though, and it almost seemed impossible to find the right one until Princess Winifred arrived.

Winifred, a fully jovial protagonist, was played by the energetic Ali Lewis, who brought luscious life to the character in numbers like "The Swamps of Home." She was complimented by Andrew Childers as Prince Dauntless. Their chemistry radiated off the stage, and Dauntless’s attempts to confess his adoration for Winifred felt real. They fared well in the choreo-heavy "Song of Love," which was quite charming.

Adding to the charm of this production were the royal court members such as Sir Harry (JJ Zang <cq>) and Lady Larken (Lydia Wright <cq>), whose dramatic love story kept the audience on their toes. They expressed this love story through songs like "In a Little While," where Larken was able to show off her fabulous voice. Other court members progressed the story as a comedic trio. The Minstrel (Sofia Schaffer), the Jester (Abby Sewell) and King Sextimus (Niki Essen) made for a good laugh in their song "The Minstrel, The Jester, I."

Costumes, designed by Lucy Baier, Halee Novak, and crew, took part in completing the mystical effect of the show. They were medieval-based but also had fun elements of more modern times, such as Queen Aggravain’s gogo boots. Their costumes also perfectly matched the set designed by Lucy Fulmer, Dominique Hohmeister, and crew. This set cleverly utilized recycled items to make an accurate medieval castle. Highlighting these technical attributes in videos and photographs was Ali Lewis and her publicity crew.

Wrapping the child-like fun of a fairytale into a humorous musical with a neat little bow, Mercy McAuley High School’s Once Upon A Mattress brought nothing but smiles.

 The Nightingale of Samarkand (Madalyn Emery) lulls Princess Winifred to sleep. 

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"With a voice as graceful as her physicality, Lydia Wright’s Lady Larken left an impactful impression on this production from her pink princess hat all the way down to her fabulous boots. With dramatic pronouncements, Wright brought longing and desire to Lady Larken, solidifying her as one of the most memorable characters in the show."

-Hailey Walls, Milford High School Critic Team

"While the show itself is far removed from reality, costumes brought us down to concerns here on earth with their upcycled costumes that still seemed as if they jumped right out of a children’s book. Lucy Baier and Halee Novak designed brilliantly and catered each costume to the character while staying true to their mission. Hair and makeup followed suit and matched with costumes perfectly, while showing spectacular creativity, especially with looks like the Jester’s."

-Emma Dalton, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

"Abby Sewell as the Jester added a delightful whimsical touch to the royal court. With her witty jokes and clever antics, the Jester provided a lightheartedness to every scene. When paired with King Sextimus the Silent, the two are able to convey pivotal moments in the plot with a mix of talent-filled pantomime and tasteful execution of the story. King Sextimus the Silent (Niki Essen), although not able to speak, did an excellent job of advancing the plot solely with motions. Essen’s performance of 'Man to Man Talk' left the audience tearing with laughter."

-Nyla Shahanavaz, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

"This show was enhanced by numerous impressive technical elements. The costume designers, led by Lucy Baier, went above and beyond to create costumes that were not only appropriate for the time period, but also the characters themselves and even the context of the scene, proving the immense thought that went into the designs. The most surprising technical element was the use of sound. The sound designer, Jacob Schulte, was able to utilize volume control to simulate the feeling of distance and depth, and that alone exceeds the typical high school standard and thensome."

-Parker Roland, Ryle High School Critic Team

"One performance that deserves ample recognition is that of Ali Lewis in the role of Princess Winifred. Her excellent belts paired with wacky hair and a zany personality perfectly encapsulated the character of Winifred. Her soon-to-be-husband, Prince Dauntless, played by Andrew Childers was naive, goofy, and adorable. Childers's portrayal of this character was endearing and hilarious to watch. The chemistry formed between Winifred and Dauntless was carried out sweetly by these two actors."

-Claire Buirley, School For Creative And Performing Arts Critic Team

"Prolonged silence is not something heard very much in a musical setting, but Niki Essen played up his silent role, King Sextimus, with his bold choices with his body language. When he wanted to get a point across, he did with ease, and if the musical called for his point to not come straight forward, it didn’t. However, with the help of his Jester, played by Abby Sewell, they were both able to articulate his words. Sewell was his stand-in voice of the show when it was called upon. In every scene she was in, she provided great comedic timing, whether she had lines or not, with her extremely animated facial expressions."

-Dakota Roberts, William Henry Harrison High School Critic Team

"Mercy McAuley brought the magic of a bedtime story to life on the stage and delivered a playful and heartwarming show, truly proving that anyone can have their 'Happily Ever After,' no matter how 'Shy.'"

-Caroline Lovelace, Walnut Hills High School Critic Team

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