Theatre Company presents Once
Upon A Mattress!
article and photos by Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca
17, 2013) The Unionville
Theatre Company has a treat in store for its fans when it presents Once
Upon A Mattress, opening on Wednesday, February 20 at Flato
Markham Theatre and running till Sunday, February 24.
to the stage an ensemble of actors young and young at heart, Once Upon A Mattress will have you smiling, laughing, grooving in
your seat ... and humming the tunes long after the show is over.
Based on the
Hans Christian Andersen story The
Princess and the Pea, this delightful musical was first performed
in 1959 off-Broadway and has been reprised over the years, including,
in recent times, two different productions featuring comedy legend
Dauntless, son of the domineering and devious Queen Aggravain and the
mute but lovable King Sextimus, must marry the girl of his mother’s
choice. Unfortunately, the
Queen submits all the applicant ladies and princesses to a tricky test
they are guaranteed to fail. And, to make matters worse for everyone,
the Queen has ordained that no one in the kingdom may marry ahead of
comedy, and great music abound.
The youth-oriented Unionville
offers young people the opportunity to participate in a full-scale
theatrical production. Last
year they performed the highly entertaining Fame,
a show which had a serious side, addressing the challenges of
youth and growing up. This
year’s production definitely tilts toward the light, fanciful and
funny and will appeal to all ages.
February 17, I dropped in on UTC’s afternoon rehearsal at Crosby
Arena in Unionville. The
Sunday leading into show week is always a frenetic day.
The cast and orchestra go through their paces one last time at
Crosby while, down at Flato Markham Theatre, the set assembly crew has
already been hard at work since 9 a.m.
I’m looking forward to paying a visit there later in the day.
evening, two days before opening night, the cast will rehearse for the
first time on the actual stage and in front of the stunning castle
Once Upon A Mattress is
directed by Florence Chan. Florence
is new to the company and has brought her own unique talents and
background to the production.
A graduate in
Fine Arts from York University where she majored in ballet and modern
dance, Florence teaches children’s drama and dance programs with the
Toronto District School Board, and is the dance specialist for the Board.
delighted with UTC's
selection of Once Upon A
Mattress for its 2013 show.
“This is a
very beautiful Broadway script, with original music that is so well
written,” she told me. “The
music has such a variety of styles.”
I had just
watched the cast rehearse “Happily Ever After”.
is so jazzy and seductive, and funny,” she said.
then, there is ‘Swamps of Home’ that is so lyrical, so feminine,
so elegant. And then
again, you’ve got ‘Song of Love’ that is so vibrant, and
involves the whole cast.”
mixture of music provides a good balance.
There are songs to engage everyone in the audience.
“And then we
have the cast of different age groups,” she added, “from forty-six
down to nine years old.”
been in ballet since she was a child, and studied at the Royal Academy
of Dance in her native Hong Kong.
That dance background helped her to visualize how she wanted
the set to look and the effects she wanted to create.
Her training in
Chinese culture and dance also provided ideas for some dramatic
elements. The Wizard
will hold and manipulate in one hand two silver balls.
Although, in Chinese culture, this is simply a hand exercise,
on stage it can add to the characterization of the Wizard as crafty
element promises to be visually stunning.
A ribbon dance, performed while the minstrel is introducing the
story, will produce the effect of shimmering fabric in the moonlight.
represent,” she said, “the dynamic in the quietness, brightness in
has also given lots of latitude to her choreographer Chris James.
Chris has been a frequent participant in UTC productions,
including most recently performing in Beauty
and the Beast in 2008, and has also done choreography for Markham
Youth Theatre. He recently
toured with Judy and David’s All Together Now Entertainment,
visiting schools all across Ontario.
“I got to
visit some places I didn’t even know existed, like Zurich, Ontario
and Scotland, Ontario.”
He has also
been working behind the scenes on a Judy and David television show for
worked to enrich the dance element in this production of Once
Upon A Mattress, a musical that was not, in its original version,
a dance-intense show.
Theatre Company has been privileged for many years to have its own
orchestra, conducted by Musical Director Doug Manning.
Its eighteen members are drawn in large part, but not entirely,
from the Markham Concert Band, of which Doug is director.
The music of Once
Upon A Mattress has been a treat for the orchestra to learn, and
to perform for the cast.
“This is a
great classical musical,” Doug told me, “with lots of toe-tapping
music. It’s going to be
a lot of fun for the audience.”
This is a busy
time for Doug, with the full Markham Concert Band also in rehearsal
for their March 3 concert “Stories and Legends” at Flato Markham
Director David Bertram, a challenge was presented by the very humour
contained in many of the song lyrics of Once Upon A Mattress.
makes the songs difficult,” he explained, “because comedy is all
about timing. The kids are
not just singing ballads, sad ballads and happy ballads, like a lot of
shows have. In these songs
there are a lot of jokes built in.
It has a lot of late 1950’s and early 60’s humour that many
in the cast, being young, have difficulty grasping: the subtleties,
the innuendo. It’s not
in-your-face humour, like we have today.
So, we had to teach them all the timing aspects of the humour.”
to say, the hard work of the artistic team is much appreciated by the
who alternates with Gilad Gratch in the role of Prince Dauntless, has
learned a lot. Stefan, who is 16 and attends St. Augustine Catholic
High School, is in his first production with UTC, and his first time
playing such a major part.
“I love the
production team. They’ve
been so helpful, and taught me a lot,” he said.
He and Gilad
are doing two very different interpretations of Dauntless.
Dauntless is a Mama’s boy,” he chuckles, recalling how, at
auditions, the casting team asked him if he could do a whine.
“So I did a
huge whine.” He got the
is a veteran of UTC productions and is enjoying the role of Queen
making people laugh, and, in this role, I get a very large chance to
do that,” she beams.
But it is also
a challenging role, the Queen having more lines than any other
character. A bit like
Hamlet, she is seldom offstage.
alternates in the part with Catherine Zanon.
Catherine, a Grade 12 music student in Thornhill, is in her
first UTC production.
I asked her how
she enjoyed playing the role of the “bad guy”.
“Playing the role of the mean one is fun!”
The part of
Winnifred is also alternated between two cast members, Paige Schuman
and Caroline Watling. On
the shows when they are not performing as Winnifred, they play one of
enjoys the physical comedy that she puts into her interpretation.
dancing since I was two as a competitive dancer,” she told me.
So, in addition to the guidance she received from the
choreographer, she was able to put some elements of her own
improvisation into the role. The
role has given her also a chance to highlight her vocal and comedic
Watling played Mabel Washington in UTC’s Fame
in 2012. She has sung in
choirs all her life and considers singing her strong suit.
At the end of
the afternoon rehearsal at Crosby Arena, the artistic team, and
several of the cast, headed down to Flato Markham Theatre where the
set building crew were hard at work, and to where the costumes had
also been transported.
UTC is lucky to
have an experienced Stage Manager like Rob Cline.
His calm demeanour, but quiet authority, are particularly
crucial during this process of transition from the rehearsal venues to
the real stage.
is once again the set designer. With
a story cast in a mythical medieval kingdom, a magnificent castle is
the highlight of this year’s set.
that the central section of the castle was used five years ago in
UTC’s Beauty and the Beast.
The set was sold to other productions but the company bought it
back for this season and, after consulting with director Florence Chan
and hearing her vision for the show, began an elaborate updating,
remodeling, and enlarging, to bring it up to the requirements for Once
Upon A Mattress. To the original centre section which the company
had re-acquired, they have added turrets, and two curved walls which
can be moved to allow the creation of a courtyard.
For all the preparatory work on
the set, the crew had the use of a building on the grounds of the
Markham Fair where, on any given day, Simon had up to thirty
volunteers sawing, drilling, building and painting.
At the theatre,
I encountered another familiar face, Carlene Flynn, who this year has
taken on, for the first time, the task of costume co-ordinator.
Several cast members who had traveled down from Crosby were
excitedly trying on their completed costumes.
design itself was largely the conception of
Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis, a.k.a. Queen Aggravain, who provided
Carlene with a complete series of drawings for all the characters.
From this costume plot, Carlene and the young and very talented
Jessie Glionna teamed up to bring the drawings to reality.
complicated and detailed task. With
some roles alternated between two actors, and some actors playing more
than one role, there are seventy costumes for forty-five cast members.
Oh, and Carlene
is also President of the board of directors of the Unionville Theatre
Also serving on
the board, and co-Producer, is Solveig Barber.
Everyone who enjoyed UTC’s 2011 production of Cats
will remember her splendid voice.
Solveig has also made several guest appearances as a soloist
with the Markham Concert Band and will be doing so again later in the
Now she is
learning the ropes on the production end, assisting co-Producer Adrian
Chandran. Also a member of
the board, Adrian provided me with an overview of the whole process of
mounting a show like Once Upon A
Last year, and
again this season, Adrian told me, the company has reached out to the
community, offering the experience of theatre to kids and families at
risk. UTC has put up a
block of tickets for their Wednesday night show free of charge to Big
Brothers of York Region. This
year, in addition to the six shows open to the general public, there
will be two daytime weekday matinees offered to groups, including
students and seniors.
Theatre Company is very appreciative of the sponsorships they have
received. Platinum sponsor
is Mercedes-Benz Markham; Diamond sponsor is Village Grocer; Gold
sponsors are Henry’s Photo Video Digital and Flato Developments
Inc.; Silver sponsors are Headlines Salon & Spa, Markham Colours
& Decor, and Schell Lumber.
The support of
friends and family is, of course, a huge part of Unionville Theatre
Company’s success. Adrian’s
own family is typical of the UTC experience, with Tara Chandran in the
cast, her brother Connor helping with the set building, and her mother
Sharon one of the Green Room co-ordinators.
The loyalty of
past members of the cast is also important.
Some of the young people who started as kids, working their way
up to leading roles during their high school years, have moved on to
university and cannot take on parts now.
But many come back for show week to contribute backstage in any
way they can.
I had a
wonderful conversation with cast members Tara Chandran, Sydney Keir
and Laura Hernandez Merlano about growing up within the UTC family.
Tara and Sydney
have been in the company since they were small and have graduated from
the chorus to main roles.
weird,” said Sydney, “we’re in the older age group of the cast
Laura, in her
third appearance with the company, is the newest of the trio.
But the experience has been so intense that she feels it has
been longer than three years.
“I feel that
I know everyone so well. Everyone
has gotten so close, and it is like a family,” she said.
“You spend so much time together because it’s three times a
week, and it’s long hours. So,
it really does become like your second family.”
How do they
cope with the butterflies?
confessed to some extra nervousness this year.
In her role as the Minstrel, she will open the show, alone at
little scared, but I’m also looking forward to it,” she said.
“You just have to remember to base it on what you’ve been
practising, and to remember your lines, and watch the conductor, and
think about everything all at once ... and hope it goes well!!!”
Oh my, that sounds
nerve-wracking. But the
big grin tells me Sydney will be just great.
For Laura, the
closeness the cast members feel for each other is a source of strength
amid the nerves.
there, and they’re supportive of what you’re doing,” she said.
butterflies just before stepping on stage is just something that never
goes away, Tara said.
get nervous unless you actually care about something,” she added.
Well, I think the success
of the Unionville Theatre Company is that everybody cares, from the
cast to the artistic team, to the parents and the many volunteers.
And, after many
months of hard work, the curtain is about to open on Unionville
Theatre Company’s Once Upon A
Mattress, a production that is sure to please and delight.
For Show details, click here.
more information on Unionville Theatre Company, click here.