The premise is delicious: The handsome but somewhat dense Prince Dauntless the Drab wants to take a bride. His domineering momma, Queen Aggravain, wants to pick "just the right girl" for him.
Then who should show up but the loud, crass Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, panting for the prince's hand.
To thwart the union, Momma devises a test. If Winnifred's skin is delicate enough to discern a pea through a mattress, then she is lady enough for the queen's darling boy. Winnifred passes, so the queen piles on another mattress. The more Winnifred complains of the bumpy mattress and sleepless nights, the more mattresses the queen piles on the bed, until the bed is 20 mattresses high.
That's the plot of the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, which is the basis for the musical Once Upon a Mattress by Mary Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers of South Pacific, Carousel and Oklahoma! fame. Comedian Carol Burnett made her stage debut in Mattress in 1959, and the play ran for 460 performances.
Once Upon a Mattress will be presented to local residents Aug. 3 and 4 by students in the Pasco Schools' Summer Theatre program, a new venture launched by former River Ridge principal Bob Dorn and theater executive director Myrt Barber, tireless supporters of the fine arts.
"They wanted to do something for the other kids in the county who don't have access to facilities like those at River Ridge," said Tim Erickson, who, with his wife, Lori, is directing the production. River Ridge's auditorium has theater-quality lights, sound, fly space and wings. It is the only such facility in the county school system.
Students from all but one of Pasco's 15 middle and high schools were chosen for the program through open auditions. A 16-piece orchestra, also recruited from throughout the county, is being led by River Ridge band director Dennis Line. Vocal director is Darrell Huling, who played Jesus in River Ridge's recent musical Godspell.
The 27-member cast has been in rehearsal since early summer, getting ready for opening night. Gulf High students Molly Knapp and Ryan Milliken play Queen Aggravain and the womanizing King Sextimus. Pasco High School's Brant Barthle plays Prince Dauntless the Drab, the meek and over-protected momma's boy.
Gulf High's Wendy Knapp plays Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, so eager to snare the prince that she swims the moat to get to him.
River Ridge students Jeremey Davis and Heather Solberg play the brave knight Sir Harry and his true love Lady Larken, who do all in their power to hasten the prince's marriage so they themselves can be wed before their "little visitor" arrives.
The cast members, who went through two rounds of auditions before being chosen for their roles, have impressive lists of accomplishments.
Ms. Knapp was drum major in the Gulf High marching band and will attend the University of Florida in the fall. Milliken was named outstanding actor for his performance in Gulf High's Cinderella two years ago. Barthle played the Artful Dodger in Pasco High's production of Oliver and Phra Alack in The King and I at Heritage Arts and Center Stage Theatre in Dade City.
Ms. Knapp played a stepsister in Gulf High's Cinderella and plays the French horn in the Gulf High band.
Davis has appeared in many River Ridge productions, most notably as the stage manager in Our Town, Judd Fry in Oklahoma! and in supporting roles in The Sound of Music, Godspell and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The directors are pleased with the summer theater's inaugural season and with the musical they have chosen for the students.
"We've been talking about it for three years, and it finally happened," Mrs. Erickson said. Rehearsals are held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays for five weeks.
"It's short in terms of what we're used to," she said. "Usually, the cast has a whole school semester to prepare a show. This one has only five weeks."
Tim Erickson is doing the scenery and lighting; Mrs. Erickson is doing the costumes and choreography.
Once Upon a Mattress, a musical comedy in two acts, presented by Pasco Schools Center for the Arts Summer Theatre at 7 p.m. Aug. 3, and 2 p.m. Aug. 4 at Pasco Schools Center for the Arts, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. Tickets are $5. Call 836-7578 for reservations.