NEW TAMPA — Jessie Grossman is the princess who charms the prince in this weekend's production of Once Upon a Mattress at the University Area Community Complex.
Grossman plays Princess Winnifred, the unlikely princess who steals the heart of Prince Dauntless in the musical comedy presented by the New Tampa Players.
"My character is the anti-princess, who by dumb luck makes all the right moves," said the 17-year-old Hillsborough High School student from Northdale.
Grossman seems to be a natural on stage. This is only her second theater performance and the second time she's scored a lead role. She played Prince Edward in the New Tampa Players' production of The Prince and the Pauper in 2005.
"I feel really proud because a lot of girls were trying out for the role," Grossman said.
Though she's taken dance her whole life, she recently began taking voice lessons and plans to pursue theater in college.
Her co-star Robby McNeel, 19, has been acting for most of his life. A director for Dearmon Creative Arts School of Theater, a homeschool theater group, he currently directs a summer theater class at Idlewild Baptist Church.
McNeel said he had no trouble jumping into the role of Prince Dauntless since he played Sir Harry in the same show years ago with the Masque of Temple Terrace.
"Prince Dauntless is a complete mama's boy," said McNeel, a freelance photographer who lives in Lutz. "He wants to get married, but wants his mother's approval."
Based on the classic fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, the show, directed by Maria Brent, tells the story of Prince Dauntless, whose overprotective and conniving mother Queen Aggravain tries to keep him from marrying.
Since no one in the kingdom is allowed to marry until Dauntless finds a bride, the wacky cast of characters, including a wizard, a jester and a minstrel, set out to find a suitable princess and discover Winnifred of the swamp.
"All the characters really have a chance to shine," said Tom Pahl of Pebble Creek, a New Tampa Players member who finds himself cast in this production as King Sextimus.
Suzy Duic of Lutz plays the controlling Queen Aggravain. A newcomer to New Tampa Players, she is a stay-at-home mother returning to the stage after a long hiatus from acting.
With a minor in theater from the University of Vermont, Duic spent a year studying theater in London. She worked as an actor in New York City, landing spots on One Life to Live and Guiding Light, before going back to school for her master's degree and becoming a school psychologist.
"[Aggravain] is a fun role to play," she said, "I'm excited to be doing theater again. It's something I've missed."