Rehearsal photo by Jeanne Souldern

Aspen Community Theatre (ACT) will premiere the classic Broadway musical-comedy “Once Upon A Mattress” for two weekends at the Wheeler Opera House, Oct. 27-28 and Nov. 3-4 at 7pm with matinee performances on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 at 2pm. The show runs for two hours with an intermission. 

This will be ACT’s first showcase since lead-producer Rita Hunter’s passing. She was involved with ACT since 1980 and received induction into the Aspen Hall of Fame for her involvement with the company. Tragically, she succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called Lou Gherig’s disease) complications on July 1 of this year.

Current ACT producer Travis Lane McDiffett told The Sopris Sun that ACT’s future was already being envisioned years ago by Hunter. “It was a diagnosis that she was aware of, and as it progressed, she shifted in her role as a lead producer,” he said. “She was giving her all to us until the end, and making sure that we had strong groundwork as an organization to continue … I think we’ve done a good job carrying on that legacy with this production.” McDiffett also plays The Minstrel in this production.

“Once Upon a Mattress” first premiered at the off-broadway Phoenix Theater in 1959 and was later picked up by Broadway theaters that same year. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, “The Princess and The Pea,” a kingdom is placed under a curse that can only be reversed when “the mouse devours the hawk.” The curse will remain until Prince Dauntless, portrayed by Joshua Adamson, shares his marriage bed. This quest is made next to impossible by the overbearing nature of his mother, Queen Aggravain, portrayed by Gail Mizner.

“The most challenging thing for me has been memorizing pages of monologue,” Mizner stated. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this many monologues in any show before, where I just go on and on and on. So that’s a challenge, but it’s also fun once it’s memorized.”

Sharing the spotlight in this 21-person ensemble are Gerald DeLisser as Sir Harry, Christopher Wheatley as King Sextimus the Silent, Allie Fifield as Lady Larken, Charlie Fields as The Jester, Brian Keleher as The Wizard and, in the leading role of Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, Julia Whalen.

“This cast has blended so well together,” director Lynette Kidd Schlepp told The Sopris Sun. “They’re a tight-knit group, and usually tight-knit doesn’t come until you’re actually in the performances.” 

A common sentiment shared among the cast is that this whimsical and fun show will be a treat for all in attendance. Additionally, leading lady Whalen expressed her excitement about portraying the character of Winnifred.

“Princess Winnifred is a quirky and authentic swamp girl,” Whalen said. “She is unafraid to swim through the moats to get what she wants and flips the idea of sensitivity and poise on its head. The most rewarding thing about playing Winnifred is finding the humor.”

Whalen expressed gratitude for the freedom that comes with playing into silly and weird characteristics. She looks forward to the show and encourages the community to come and enjoy a night of fun. “I think we need more fun, more laughter, and not to take anything too seriously,” she said.

Her sentiment was echoed by Adamson, who Whalen recently worked with in Thunder River Theatre Company’s production of “Zeus on the Loose.” He said, “I think what will resonate with [audiences] is the fun time we will have onstage. It’s us being up there having a good time telling a classic fantasy story, and delving into all the tropes that come with it.”

In addition to the fun, this show holds important messages about love, standing up for oneself, kindness and how being a good person matters.

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