Musical comedy 'Once Upon a Mattress' opens Friday

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A king who can't talk, an acid-tongued queen who can, a Tomboy princess and her eager, bumbling suitor set the stage for laughter and some genuine romance as well as trickery and counter trickery.

The Touchet Valley Arts Council Productions' first of 12 performances of "Once Upon A Mattress" opens Friday in the Liberty Theater.

King Sextimus is played by TVAC Productions veteran Steve Edwards, who is able to communicate with brilliant facial expressions and gestures. His gestures are accentuated by a red and gold brocade robe, with sweeping sleeves that suggest flames.

Sextimus and his wife, Queen Aggravaine (Kim Grimshaw), are trying to find a princess suitable to wed their son, Prince Dauntless (Mark Franklin.) Each candidate is turned away after failing ever more difficult tests of royalty concocted by the queen.

The arrival, via the moat, of Princess Winnifred (Richele Loney) introduces a formidable opponent for the queen's schemes.

Winnifred (aka Fred) returns Dauntless' interest, but knows she must pass an unknown test. She demonstrates to Dauntless her strength by lifting barbells and is the last dancer standing at the frantically lively "Spanish Panic Ball."

The musical comedy was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea." It opened off-Broadway in 1959 and enjoyed a total of 460 performances.

The play is also popular with high school and community theater groups.

Because of this popularity, director Darla Anderson could call on her two older brothers to critique the performance two weeks out from opening night.

Her brothers' influence on her involvement in theater has been "huge, huge, huge," Anderson said.

That resource was one reason she chose "Once Upon A Mattress" to direct, Anderson said. Another reason was the levity of the story.

"It's funny. Our last two or three plays have been so serious," she said.

This is Anderson's first time directing, but the former dance student has helped choreograph several past productions.

Anderson is an alumna of Spokane's "Starlit Stairway," a weekly talent show that aired on Spokane television stations. She appeared three times as a tap dancer.

Her brothers, both music teachers, spent a Saturday watching a semi-dress rehearsal, offering suggestions and praise.

Jon Brownell, choir and vocal teacher at Sandpoint (Idaho) High School, has directed the play twice and played the jester in a Colfax High School performance and at the University of Idaho.

Bruce Brownell played the minstrel at Washington State University and directed the play three times. He teaches choir and vocal at Beaverton (Ore.) High School.

At a recent rehearsal, the "Mattress" veterans urge Mark Franklin to dumb down his Dauntless. "Dauntless is clueless and childlike. You look too intelligent," Bruce Brownell told him.

"You're the MC. You're the storyteller, and I was getting it" Jon Brownell told the minstrel, Chuck Reeves.

Reading through the list of actors, regular fans of the TVAC Productions will recognize many names and see some new actors, too. Kim Grimshaw, who plays the queen, doubles as a choreographer, along with Brenda Chapman. This is Grimshaw's first lead part.

Grimshaw's two daughters, Carly and Tyler, are also in the play.

Steve Edwards, who was instrumental in the founding of the TVAC Productions, has three generations of his extended family on stage. His wife, Roslyn, is Lady Merrill, his daughter-in-law, Nyssa Zanger, makes her stage debute as Lady Nola, and her daughter, Kiara Biggar, is part of the children's ensemble.

Other acting families include Chapman's daughter, Ally, Jester Julia Mead's daughter, Whitney, as Lady Whitney and Cindy, Chris and Emma Philbrook.

"Our troupe seems to become a family affair," Anderson said. "But you spend a lot of time away from home when you're in these things."

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