Theater Review: Pec Playhouse stages ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Described as a “Grown-up Fairy Tale,” Once Upon a Mattress is the musical version of a familiar tale. Director James Radloff Jr. has assembled an amazing cast for Pec Playhouse’s production. His 40 years of theater experience gives him the contacts that make this production outstanding. From long-time friends and associates, Kathy and Jerry Stevens to the talented students he works with at Keith Country Day School, he has the perfect blend of talent.

Kathy is the Queen Mother, determined to keep her son, Prince Dauntless, at her side. Finding the perfect princess is the solution. Ben Ross, a junior at Keith Country, has the voice and dramatic talent to fill the role perfectly. Unable to marry until the Prince has found a bride, Sir Harry (James Castree) goes on a search and returns with Princess Winnifred (Zoe Jensen). Also a junior at Keith, her exceptional voice and stage presence makes her the star of the production.

Ratloff draws from Pecatonica High School, Rock Valley College, Boylan High School and Winnebago High School to offer the opportunity to these many students to perform in a fine community theater. Several adults join the cast that includes Melinda Baker, Robert Hardin (the Wizard), Laurie Miller and Glen Wiegert, a part of the Pec Playhouse since 1993, who plays the long-suffering King Sextimus. A spell has been cast upon him, and he is unable to speak. We understand his signed dialogue that gives his character a special comedic emphasis.

Ratloff’s set reflects his many years of experience that draws on innovative concepts is unlimited. His use of fabric enhances every scene. The castle walls of stone with central staircases rising to the back of the stage provide the orchestra with a setting, not too obvious, but very effective. The exceptional Paul Steffan directs Ben Barteau (drums), Thomas Britton (piano/keyboard), Adam Crandall (flute), Jonathan Lee (violin) and Eric Ross (cello). These young musicians play the score beautifully, and Steffan continues to grow as a musical genius.

I cannot compliment Jim Ratloff enough for all he does in our theater community. He gives everyone he works with the gift of his knowledge and experience. His design team includes Arnie Ames, set; Jan Bacino, costumes; Annette DeYoung, make-up and hair; Linda Johnson, stage manager; Angela Larson, lighting, and Neal Ter Hark, sound. The costumes for this large cast are a challenge, and Bacino uses all her resources to collect the appropriate garb.

Once Upon a Mattress plays through Sept. 25 with performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and further information, call (815) 239-1210. An upcoming special event, Historic Voices: A Personal Look at Events That Built America, begins on Monday, Sept 26, with Albert Einstein at 6:30 p.m. and Edgar Allen Poe at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, see Mark Twain and on Friday, Nov. 11 at 3 and 7 p.m, Cordelia Harvey.

The richness of our local theaters continues.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2011, issue

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