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Westfield High Presents 'Once Upon a Mattress'

In its musical "Once Upon a Mattress," Westfield High offers its hilariously twisted take on the fairytale, "The Princess and the Pea."

The show runs Thursday-Sunday, May 8-11, in the school theater. Performances are at 8 p.m., except for a Sunday, May 11, matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8; to reserve them, call 703-488-6430 or e-mail scott.pafumi@fcps.edu.

"This is the epitome of what American audiences want when they come to the theater — a big, comedy music-show with a large set, period costumes, lots of singing and group dancing," said director Scott Pafumi. "It's your classic, big, Broadway spectacle."

Some 80 people — 40 cast members, 20 crew and a 20-piece orchestra composed of school band members — bring it all together. Band director is Laura McBride; vocal director, Jessica Lardin; and choreographers, Lori Knickerbocker and Yvonne Henry.

And Maria Vetsch, whose daughter Crystal is part of the ensemble, designed and made the show's spectacular costumes. Vetsch sewed costumes professionally for Disney.

Senior Stephanie Rapp, 18, plays Queen Aggravain. "I'm loud, overbearing, annoying — and did I mention LOUD?" she asked. "I want to protect my only son from being married to anybody, so I create all these tests that are impossible to pass. All the contenders for his hand must undergo them, and one test involves 20 mattresses and a pea."

Rapp loves her role because her character's so much fun to play. "I get to yell and boss people around and have complete control of the kingdom," she said. "The audience will love it — it's entertaining for young and old, it's hilarious and the costumes are absolutely beautiful."

The story is set in Medieval times, and senior Courtney Reed, 18, plays Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, who swims the moat and arrives dripping wet at the castle of the Queen and mute King Sextimus to vie for the prince's hand. She, too, is loud and brassy, straightforward and knows what she wants.

"But she's a nice person and very likeable," said Reed, also noted for her wonderful singing voice. And the person playing the prince, Kevin Knickerbocker, is Reed's boyfriend — her prince — in real life, so that adds an extra dimension to their interactions on stage.

Winnifred meets the prince and flirts with him, but he's shy. When he tells her about the test, she begins studying history and English and practicing weightlifting, because the test could be about anything. "I like it a lot because she's loud, and I'm glad to be in a musical for my final production," said Reed. "I sing three solos, 'Shy,' 'The Swamps of Home' and 'Happily Ever After.'"

She says the audience will enjoy the play a lot because "you think it'll be a classic fairytale, but it has a more modern, comical twist to it. Mary Rodgers — daughter of famed Broadway composer Richard Rodgers — wrote the music for the play, so it has a more fun take on the songs and story. And it's a cute show."

Knickerbocker, a junior, portrays Prince Dauntless. "He's feminine and shy, due to his overbearing mother, but he also stands up to his mother," said Knickerbocker. "He's got good intentions, and everything is new to him because he's been so sheltered. He has a good relationship with his dad, who's a mute because he's under a curse."

Knickerbocker says it's a great role to play because it's his first lead, it's a neat show and all the rest of the leads are his really good friends. The hardest part, he said, is "trying not to laugh, because some of my funniest scenes are with Reaves [McElveen], the dad, and Jesse [Leahy] who plays the jester."

He said the best part is that it's a fun show with good songs. "This is the most comedic show we've done, and it's a break from our usual dramas," he said. "This is consistently funny, all the way through, and the costumes are really nice and have bright colors that the audience will like."

McElveen, 16 and a junior, plays King Sextimus, who's been cursed into silence by a witch. "I'm a little promiscuous, but a likeable guy," said McElveen. "I hate my wife because she's really mean and, being that I'm mute, she kind of took over the kingdom."

He, too, is having a terrific time with his role. "Ironically, it's the third lead I've played where I don't say anything," he said. "I was a clock in one play and Woodstock [the bird] in 'Snoopy.' I like it because it's all facial expressions. I don't have any lines, and I can concentrate on my acting and my comedy."

McElveen said the toughest thing is having a man-to-man talk with his son about his wedding night — and doing it all with hand motions. The best part? "Not having to learn lines."

Junior Derek Rommel, 16, is the minstrel. "I'm the narrator, telling the story, and I'm also a character," he said. "I'm friends with the jester and the king, and I sing lots of songs." His favorite is "The Minstrel, the Jester and Me," because it's light and upbeat.

A roving minstrel, he pretends to play a guitar while he sings, and his character happens upon the kingdom where all the action is taking place. He says the audience will enjoy the play because it's really colorful and contains lots of jokes. As for his role, said Rommel, "It's fun — a nice, little breather from the intense, mental work [I did] playing Claudius in 'Hamlet.'"

Portraying a chivalrous knight of the castle, Sir Harry, is freshman Barry Armbruster, 15. "He brings Princess Winnifred to the castle because he needs to marry the Lady Larkin," explained Armbruster. "There's a law that no one in the kingdom can get married before the prince, so he takes it upon himself to find the prince a princess."

He describes his character as "very noble and manly — just what you think a knight would be." He's also pleased because it's the role he wanted. "It's vocally challenging for me, and I like that since singing is my main focus because I'm [currently] more involved in chorus than in theater," he said.

And, although Armbruster played the title role of Snoopy in Westfield's Summer Stage production, this is his first main-stage acting gig at the school. "Mr. Pafumi has taught me a lot about how to act and how to 'become' Sir Harry," he said. But the best part, he added, is that "I get to really show my vocal range — especially my upper register. And I also enjoy playing a chivalrous knight."

Junior Emily Brown, 17, plays Lady Larkin, Harry's girlfriend. "The Queen won't let anyone get married, but I'm pregnant, so Harry and I really want to get married," she explained.

She said her character, a lady-in-waiting, is young, sweet and beautiful and completely in love with Harry. "I usually play mean characters, so it's nice to be able to play a girly girl," said Brown. "And I've known Barry for ages, so it's fun playing opposite a friend."

As the king's jester, senior Jesse Leahy, 17, is a happy fellow who skips around on stage and always sports a big smile. "I accompany the minstrel — we're goofballs," he said. "And I hang around the king and laugh a lot. It's a good role because I like expressing my fun and colorful side."

His favorite part is getting to sing. And, said Leahy, "It's also fun being with all my friends for one, last time [in a play together before graduation]. The show has adult humor for the grownups and colorfulness for the kids, so it'll appeal to all ages."