Once upon a mattress, Carol Burnett took a role as Winnifred the Woebegone on a 1959 Broadway musical based on the Princess and the Pea.
The role made her famous, said Avon Summer Theater Director Doreen Cohn, who has been involved in seven local productions of it herself.
The summer theater program, now in its 52nd year, is Thursday to Sunday at .
Simsbury resident Rachel Sennott's "Fred" may be a clumsy, nerdy princess from bogland who struggles to be ladylike while vying to become the prince's wife, but she is a master of comedic grace, through her acting, movements and musicality. Belting is a requirement for her character and Sennott has so much control over her voice that she can be beautifully operatic when appropriate and then switch abruptly to a screech or goofy resonance, depending on the tone she is trying to convey. It is hard not to like her character.
And that's the nice thing about the characters in the play, Cohn, a Simsbury resident and Avon High's former theater director, said. They are non-traditional, from a princess who isn't perfect to a king who can't talk.
"There's something for everyone. There's a lot for the ensemble," Cohn said, who noted that there is a cast of 30 and a tech crew of 25.
Eighth grader Benjamin Stone, of Enfield, plays the womanizing King Sextimus who communicates through emphatic pantomiming.
"How do you memorize dialogue if you don't say anything?" Cohn pointed out, impressed with his performance.
She said that the theme of the knights and the ladies of the castle has echoed into how the cast treats one another – with kindness and respect. The cast, which includes middle and high school students, is included in tech discussions.
"I try to make sure the kids understand the tech parts are equally as important," Cohn said.
Sound effects are a key component of this production, such as a slide whistle sound to indicate a fall and Sennott's voice echoing through a microphone when her character is yelling from a moat.
Like Shrek, there is humor geared toward adults that will fly over kids' heads and children will enjoy the slapstick comedy.
Speaking of non-traditional, the story may be set in the medieval times, but Cohn has made an artistic choice to add in contemporary pop culture references to make the show "medieval modern." Banners hung in the castle display the logos of nationally recognized brands like , Apple and Target, as well as symbols from popular HBO television series Game of Thrones. One of Sennott's pajama outfits – remember, this play is called Once Upon a Mattress – includes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boxers. In a scene that calls for tents in the script, Cohn chose portraits of Beauty and the Beast characters instead.
"I wanted the look of modern logos," Cohn said, who added that the sets were designed by students.
There is also a subtle reference to last year's summer play, The Wiz – see if you can pick it out – and Thriller choreography was integrated into a dance sequence called the Spanish Panic.
"A lot of numbers are comedic-based in the dancing," said choreographer Terry Rowe, who runs a in Avon's Riverdale Farms. "That's musical theater. You can take one step and perform in a sad way or a happy way."
Rowe, like many working on the show, is part of Cohn's Theatre Guild of Simsbury network. So are Music Director Diana Lawler, Assistant Director Terri Schulman, costume designer Cindy Braunlich, of Simsbury, and Technical Director Ken Jones, of Canton. Its the theater guild's 40th anniversary this year. art teacher Nora Goeler, of Canton, is producing Once Upon a Mattress. Avon High graduate Alyssa Marinello is the stage manager.
"I call it the dream team," Cohn said.
Such support is particularly crucial now that Avon Summer Theater, which used to be funded in through Avon Summer School dollars, is now run through the Avon Recreation and Parks Department and required to be self-sustaining. Most of the money to support it comes from ticket sales.
"We don't want 52 years to end," said Cohn, who is grateful Avon Superintendent Gary Mala is allowing her to keep the program.
The show runs Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Avon High School, 510 West Avon Rd. Tickets will be available at the door at the cost of $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Reserved seating costs $20 and includes a drink, snack and actorgram. For more information, you can visit the Avon Summer Theater website: www.avonsummertheater.com.
- Rachel Sennott from Simsbury (Winnifred)
- Jessica Pomeroy from Simsbury (The Queen)
- Amanda Pratt from Farmington (Lady Larken)
- Maddie Gassman from Canton (the Jester)
- Stephanie Evans from Avon (the Minstrel)
- Benjamin Stone from Enfield (The King)
- Cole Petano from Avon (Prince Dauntless)
- Sam Evans from Avon (Sir Harry)
- Ruy Zambrano from Avon (the Wizard)
- Lords and ladies of the court: Caitlin Culligan (Avon), Juli Dupont (Unionville), Alison Pascale (Avon), Abigail Lancaster (Avon), Julia Canova (Avon), Briana DeStaffan (Avon), Abigail Inglis (Avon), Lauren Yost (Avon), Kelsey Tyler (Avon), Devon McLane (Avon), Julie Pelland (Avon), Kylie Whalen(Avon), Inga Smith (West Hartford), Emily Andrade(Avon), Kate Casner (Avon), Hanna Rosenfield (Farmington), Megan Beauregard (Avon), Rachel Beauregard (Avon), Marisa Canova (Avon), Jeff Rose (Avon) and Jonathan Smith (Canton).