A collaboration between the theatre and music programs will result in a concert-style production of the family-friendly musical comedy “Once Upon A Mattress” April 13-16 at the Moss Arts Center, presented by the School of Performing Arts.

The plot is based on the classic fairytale “The Princess and the Pea.” As Concord Theatrical described it: “Many moons ago in a far-off place, Queen Aggravain decreed no couples could marry until her son, Prince Dauntless, found a bride. Princesses came from far and wide to win the hand of the prince, but none could pass the impossible tests given to them by the queen. That is, until the 'shy' swamp princess, Winnifred the Woebegone, showed up. Would she be able to pass the Sensitivity Test, marry her prince, and help Lady Larkin and Sir Harry to the altar? Carried on a wave of wonderful songs, by turns hilarious and raucous, romantic and melodic, this rollicking spin on the classic tale 'The Princess and the Pea' provides some side-splitting shenanigans. For after all, a princess is a delicate thing.”

Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. April 13-15 and at 2 p.m. April 16 in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, within Moss Arts Center's Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall in Blacksburg.

The production will be “truly a joint venture between theatre and music, supported by the School of Performing Arts,” said Cara Rawlings, associate professor of theatre who is co-directing the show with Ariana Wyatt, associate professor of voice. Brian Thorsett, associate professor of voice, serves as the vocal director, and Mathias Elmer, director of orchestral activities and assistant professor of music, is music director. Elmer will conduct the 35-member Virginia Tech Philharmonic, which will play on stage alongside the actors.

This joint directing venture is collaborative, Rawlings said. "This is not the standard top-down approach to directing a show. Everyone — the musicians in the orchestra and maestro, the actors, technical and design staff, and stage management — has an active role in creating this show. Our fundamental goal is to respect the agency of each individual artist and their contributions to the production.”

Of the philharmonic’s role, Elmer said, “This is a very unique opportunity for us to be involved with the musical. I am very thankful that our students will get the experience of performing/accompanying in a setting that is nontraditional for us. This will definitely help push us onto a new level, musically and artistically.”

Students in the VT Philharmonic rehearse with their conductor, Mathias Elmer.
Mathias Elmer conducts the Virginia Tech Philharmonic during a music rehearsal. Photo by Liz Gray for Virginia Tech.

The title role of Princess Winnifred was originated by the famous comedic actress Carol Burnett, who won the 1960 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. Maya Jaffe, a double major in theatre in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design and psychology in the College of Science, will take on the brashly lovable character in this production.

“Once Upon A Mattress” is “a story about being yourself and never shying away from a challenge,” Jaffe said. She said she is looking forward to performing on the Anne and Ellen Fife stage at the Moss Arts Center, a unique opportunity for an undergraduate actor.

There are several challenges in presenting a show at the Moss Arts Center rather than at Squires Studio Theatre, where School of Performing Arts productions are usually held. “The shift from our rehearsal room to the Moss will be significant for the actors — they will be challenged with filling the space with their vocal and physical presence. Allen Sanders, instructor of sound design, and Gabrielle Henry, a graduate student studying lighting design, are ready to support that shift with both sound and lighting.”

Another member of the production team who is not shying away from a challenge is stage manager and graduate student, Rachel Kilgore. “It's relatively new to me to run tech and dress rehearsals with a full orchestra, which is behind the cast on stage and not in the pit. That will add another layer of challenge on such a huge stage as the Anne and Ellen Fife stage at the Moss. I'm here to learn, and I'm down for the challenge,” said Kilgore.

The last time a musical was performed by the School of Performing Arts was in 2018, when the school presented "Fun Home." The musical “Pippin” was just beginning rehearsals in 2020 when the pandemic closed the production permanently. “If the pandemic taught us anything, it was to find joy in the moments we have together creating and telling stories, working hard, and making each other laugh,” Rawlings said.

More information about "Once Upon A Mattress" is available online.

Tickets and parking

Tickets are $15 general and $12 for seniors/students and may be purchased through the Moss Arts Center ticket office in person or may be purchased online. Tickets will also be available at the door beginning one hour prior to the performance.

All university community members and visitors will need to display a parking permit, use the ParkMobile app, pay a fee, or pay using an hourly meter to park on the Blacksburg campus unless otherwise noted by signage. Find additional parking information online.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Susan Sanders at 540-231-5200 or performingarts@vt.edu during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.

Written by Liz Gray, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts

Share this story