Rehearsal time had been moved a half hour earlier than the night before, so the cast and crew for Lansing High School’s annual musical production “Once Upon a Mattress” arrived in chattering gaggles.
At 6:05 p.m., Director Cindy Howell called out “let’s go! We’re five minutes late!” and herded her thespians on to the stage, breaking clumps into circles into lines of dancers stretching side by side behind their captains.
When the warm-up was over, Howell called for the dancers involved in the prologue number to take the stage.
“If there are any spots where you don’t know what’s going on, now is the time to ask,” she warned them.
They worked through “Many Moons Ago,” “Shy” and “Spanish Panic,” while Howell briefed the tech crew, conferred with the costume designers and arranged to have new chairs and music stands unpacked and set up in the orchestra pit.
It was with relief that she welcomed the arrival of Choreographer Priscilla Hummel.
“My approach is that I love to work hard but I also want to have fun,” Hummel said. “The kids are enjoying what we are doing, exploring the world of dance through their character.”
Hummel said she loves inspiring students in this way.
“I get excited about storytelling and want them to find that common excitement and passion,” she said. “If they can see that I am passionate about the story we are telling and I can get them to tie in, then I’ve done my job. They have to discover the fire and drive to tell the story.”
Hummel gathered five actors on the stage – Ryan Hsu, Sirus Desnoes, Rowan Caldwell, Martin Stallone and Lovetta Geesey – to learn how to work together for the lift at the center of “Shy.”
“Some of these kids have been dancing since the womb, and we have some kids with no background at all – this is their first show and they never took a dance class,” Hummel said. “We use the strengths of the students that we have.”
“Dance captains” Hsu, Bella Micale and Sarah Wyszkowski are among the more experienced of the cast members.
“There are certain numbers that allow us to highlight some of the more experienced dancers,” Hummel said. “We integrated a soft shoe number because Bella is a tap dancer with more than 10 years’ experience. Sarah has ballet experience, so she is the dream ballet princess in the opening number. Meantime, we can challenge other kids with less experience – Rowan dances with Sarah in the prologue.”
“Once Upon a Mattress” is the second Lansing High show Hummel has choreographed.
“My first show was ‘Mama Mia,’ and that was a very different style of musical,” Hummel said. “They are two very different worlds.”
“Mama Mia” was about a woman from the 1970s and was a celebration of the music of Abba and the jazz and disco styles of dance popular then, Hummel said.
“’Once Upon a Mattress’ is from the 1960s and it has a timeless feel of a classic fairy tale world,” Hummel said. “They were modernizing those medieval fairy tales for us.”
Fifty years later, it doesn’t feel contemporary, Hummel said.
“Some of the choreography is traditional 60s style, and we’re exploring a more current style of musical theater – but not too trendy,” Hummel said. “The show is written to allow for modern take on a ‘modern musical’ from the 1960s.”
Hummel grew up in Lansing; her mother Audrey teaches at Lansing Middle School and directs the annual drama.
“I grew up a dancer,” she said. “I began at the Ithaca Academy of Dance and then, six years into training, I joined the first generation at the Armstrong School of Dance. I layered in training at Ithaca Ballet and joined the company for the last two years of high school.”
Hummel earned a B.A. in theater and dance from Brenau University and an M.F.A. in acting and directing from Regent University. She worked professionally acting and in education, administration and choreography for nine years in Chicago before returning to the area in 2016.
In the time since, she’s founded Walking on Water productions and staged several musical shows, taught at Wells College and worked on productions with The Hangar Theatre, Next Generation School of Theatre and the DeWitt, Lansing and Trumansburg middle schools.
The show “Once Upon a Mattress” is a musical comedy based upon the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” No one in the kingdom may marry until Prince Dauntless (Ryan Hsu) finds a bride. Nonetheless, his mother, Queen Aggravain (Audrey Lyons), has tested and rejected a dozen candidates. This problem is acute for Sir Harry (Dillon Tyler) and Lady Larken (Teresa Garcia), who are expecting a baby.
Sir Harry gets permission from the queen to seek a suitable princess. When he returns three weeks later with Princess Winnifred the Woebegone (Fiona Lory-Moran), the queen commands the wizard (Sirus Desnoes) to design a sensitivity test that she can’t possibly pass.
“Once Upon a Mattress” will be performed March 11 and 12 at 6:30 p.m. and March 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. in the Lansing Middle School auditorium.
Tickets are $5 on March 11, and $10 on March 12, 13 and 14. Tickets can be purchased at the door the night of the performance. Tickets can be purchased in advance at ltapa.ticketleap.com until 2 p.m. the day of the show.
Lansing United Methodist Church will host a Spaghetti Dinner for the community on Saturday, March 7, from 4:30 to 7p.m. The menu includes spaghetti, salad, Italian bread and Lansing’s famous homemade pies. Adults $10, under 10 $7, and under 6 free.
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