By Jonathan Slawson
“It’s not this kind of musical, folks,” Adam Immerwahr said as he flashed jazz hands. “It’s different, and we don’t want our audience to think otherwise.”
Immerwahr, the director of Westminster Choir College’s (WCC) spring musical, Once Upon a Mattress, gently cautioned the cast not to be too flashy in the first number.
“That’s not what this musical is about,” he said.
The ensemble show is a perverse spin on the well-known fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. With music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer, this particular production of Once Upon A Mattress explores the ideas of the fairy tale stories and images people create about themselves and their lives.
The artistic team has employed projections and shadow theater to illuminate the story of this American masterpiece in a new light.
The audience is promised a song for everyone: A soft shoe for the Jester (senior Carl Hulden), a love song for a handsome, if not bright couple (senior Ryan Crimmins and sophomore Lauren Snyder), and a scheming plot in 5/4 time for the original dominating mother, the Queen (junior Rose Lynn). Even the mute king (sophomore Paul Hughes) performs a song in which he sings not one note.
This spring show welcomes a professional artistic staff including Immerwahr and music director Braden Toan.
Immerwahr is currently the producing associate at McCarter Theater in Princeton and the winner of the prestigious Drama League Directing Fellow. His many credits include the off-Broadway production of Missing Celia Rose (Summer Play Festival 2007), The Kid Who Talked to Penguins (Hanger Theatre) and Bodyguard (Passage Theatre).
“The talent pool at Westminster is extraordinary,” Immerwahr said. “I have been so impressed by the work ethic, their skill level and the energy and enthusiasm of these students.”
Immerwahr has a unique approach to working with student actors.
“I am interested in collaborating with actors as fellow artists and, for many students, this proves to be a challenging new role,” he said. “The students at Westminster have risen to the occasion.”
Toan, an instrumentalist and conductor, has a rich background in both the Broadway and opera worlds having conducted many Broadway productions, such as Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof and Sweeney Todd.
“It’s interesting to have [the students] bring their talents and knowledge and take the production in new directions, especially in the direction of style with a show from the ’50s,” Toan said. “They’ve got the acumen, the voices and the wits to make them feel comfortable in the style, so they can warm into it; it’s been satisfying to watch them get into shape.”
Lynn, a student on the Lawrenceville campus, said that performing on the Westminster campus has been fabulous.
“You get the best of both worlds,” she said.
Senior Tunisia Hayward, who plays Princess Winnifred, said she is most excited about playing a character with an extravagant lifestyle.
“It’s so much fun to get to live in a world that is better than life.”
Once Upon A Mattress opens Friday, April 3 at 8 p.m., with additional shows Saturday, April 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 5 at 3 p.m. in The Playhouse. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.