Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland, Dec. 10, 2010

Once upon a magical musical week

Last month, we were transported to three different places within the span of a week.

It started with "Once Upon a Mattress," the musical comedy performed by Riley County High School. Daughter Katie played the part of mean Queen Aggravain in the production, which was based upon Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "Princess and the Pea."

The students wore elaborate colorful costumes, including plumed feathered hats, and sauntered inside and outside a castle, complete with turrets. For some reason, I was particularly partial to a large portrait of Queen Aggravain holding a white cat. Add a six-foot-high bed and the antics of the actors cavorting among all these things and it was indeed a most entertaining play.

The cast had been practicing three nights a week since early October, and their hard work paid off as the crowds seemed to enjoy the two evening performances and matinee show.

The musical was a family affair for us. Art spent several days constructing the bed and repairing the chair that became the "throne," as well as making sure the lights and sound were in good shape. Daughter Mariya and her partner Lacey helped videotape. I organized the cast-and-crew party. Mom, her friend Stan, brother Dave and his wife Linda and brother-in-law Dave and his wife Jo attended the Saturday night show. Dave and Jo even brought along friends Sue and Rick, who had never met any of us and whose children are long past high school age.

"You can't help but smile when you see them," Sue said. "You can tell they're having the time of their lives."

Indeed I could. Although most of the young actors experienced some apprehension about whether they were going to be able to pull everything off, they maintained their sense of camaraderie throughout. And I could see when it was all over that they were proud of their efforts.

The day after the last performance of "Once Upon a Mattress," the girls and I attended Kansas State University's rock musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," about a florist shop worker on Skid Row who raises a plant that feeds on human blood. The script, according to its author Howard Ashman, "satirizes many things: science fiction, 'B' movies, musical comedy itself..."

The music was fun, but probably the most entertaining part for me was seeing the plant, "Audrey II" grow ever larger during the production. It shifted from being just another part of the set to become one of the main characters. Charlotte MacFarland, director of the show, was excited about it as well. She said the set designer had spent a good portion of her summer and fall coming up with a plant that was believable and large enough to "eat" humans. One actor operated its "mouth," leaf "arms" and root "feet" while another provided the booming voice.

Several days later, our family attended "Monty Python's Spamalot" - a spoof of King Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail. We had seats near the orchestra pit and stage; in fact, we were close enough we could see the actors spit while projecting their words. More well-known characters included the king, the Lady of the Lake, Sir Lancelot and God. Others who gallivanted across the stage included Sir Dennis Galahad, Not Dead Fred, the French Taunter, Knight of Ni and others. The various sketches kept us all in stitches from start to finish. At one point, I was laughing so hard, I was teary-eyed.

Afterward, I couldn't help but think about another comment Sue had made. She said musicals in cinemas and on television are OK, but there's just something special about going to a live production.

"You can really 'feel' the music when you're right there," she said.

And that was the case with me. I found myself tapping my feet and swinging in time to the music at all three productions. It was truly a magical musical week.

In the Riley County High School musical production of "Once Upon a Mattress," from top left, the
minstrel (Janelle Bailey), wizard (Tim Everson), jester (Levi Bailey), and king (Brian Ingalsbe)
look on as the prince (Jon Strom) moons over his princess (Courtney Hall) while a very disapproving
queen (Katie Vaughan) considers her next move to end the couple's budding romance.

Members of the court and the queen await the start of the test for the princess. One lady is attempting
to put the princess in a trance before she is to sleep on the 20-mattress bed awaiting in the background.

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