YouTheatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ springs into life |

YouTheatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ springs into life

Production runs May 12-14 at the Egyptian Theatre Studios

YouTheatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

  • When: 5 p.m., Friday, May 12; 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., Saturday, May 13; 2 p.m., Sunday, May 14
  • Where: Egyptian Theatre Studios, under the Egyptian Theatre, 323 Main St.
  • Phone: 855-745-SHOW
  • Web:
Egyptian YouTheatre rehearses the upcoming production of “Once Upon a Mattress” that runs May 12-14 at the Egyptian Theatre Studios. The musical is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Princess and the Pea.”
David Jackson/Park Record

Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre is ready to bounce onto the stage with its own version of the Tony Award-nominated musical “Once Upon a Mattress.”

The production, featuring music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer, is a family-friendly take on the play that runs from May 12-14, and is directed by Daniel Varas.

“While looking for a show to do, we had to take into account what all the other high schools up in the area were doing, and it was between this and ‘Mary Poppins,'” he said. “We decided to go with ‘Once Upon a Mattress,’ because it was more of an ensemble show.”

“Once Upon a Mattress” features 23 students who act in the show, and eight who are part of the stage crew, Varas said.

Like a painter who works with paint and sculptors who work with clay, an actor’s medium is their voice, their bodies and skills.” Daniel Varas, ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ director

“All the lights, music and projections are run by the kids, who are in YouTheatre’s stagecraft class,” he said. “And working with them has been a great process.”

“Once Upon a Mattress” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea,” and opened off-Broadway in 1959, before debuting on the Great White Way in 1960, with Carol Brunett who took on the role of Princess Winnifred.

The production, which was also turned into TV specials in 1964, 1972 and 2005, enjoyed a Broadway revival in 1996 with Sarah Jessica Parker as Winnifred.

As director of the YouTheatre venture, Varas didn’t look to the past interpretations.

“I have not seen the production, so I wasn’t influenced by what has been done before,” he said. “We are also doing the youth version of the show, so that, in and of itself, removes some of the more adult-content of the original.”

Varas also made his own adjustments to keep the story fun and “not gross.”

“When you’re dealing with kids and there’s romance, I have a very strict line about what is appropriate and what isn’t,” he said. “A lot of times I’ll add in some ridiculous humor like a high-five instead of a kiss to add to the comedy.”

Varas, who has been directing kids and adults in the Utah theater community since 2004, said he relies on the talents of his cast for the production.

“Like a painter who works with paint and sculptors who work with clay, an actor’s medium is their voice, their bodies and skills,” he said. “My medium is other people’s talent.”

Daniel Varas, one of the the Egyptian Theatre YouTheatre faculty, directs a rehearsal of “Once Upon a Mattress” on Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre Studios. Varas says the cast and crew of this musical venture has “blown him away.”
David Jackson/Park Record

Varas says his style requires him to closely work with the actors and the production’s design team.

“I will have my solid vision,” he said. “I will approach the cast and crew with that vision, and tell them they have total freedom to work within the parameters of the script and my vision. And everytime they will bring me cooler stuff than what I originally envisioned.”

The adults working on this production include Musical Director Amy Livingston, Choreographer Amanda Dayton, Scenic Designer Gary Rung and Stage Manager Parker Thompson, Varas said.

“Amy does private singing lessons and teaches a lot of our musical theater classes, while Amanda is a local actor and dancer,” he said. “Gary started in YouTheatre many years ago as a student and he recently graduated from Westminster. And Parker also graduated from Westminster as well.”

Technical Director Gabriella Baguley and Costume Designer Ali Horton also work closely with Varas to bring his vision to the stage.

“I was able to meet with all of them before we cast the show, and we talked about what I wanted,” he said. “They have blown me away.”

As for casting, Emma Bicker Caarten is Princess Winnifred and Reid Kofford is Prince Dauntless, Varas said. 

“It was incredibly difficult to choose the cast, because we had 60 kids audition,” he said. “We could only cast 24, even though we did a little wiggling to add more. I also like to give kids who have not had a lead role before an opportunity to do lead roles.”

Many of the kids who auditioned are students in the YouTheatre Academy, which requires auditions to join, Varas said. 

“A lot of our teachers have worked with these students over the last year, so I deferred a lot of the choices to Amamda and Amy,” he said. “Another reason to do that was because I had COVID at the time of casting, so I had to Zoom into the auditions.” 

In YouTheatre’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” the role of the Silent King is performed as a two-person puppet by Kaia Swisher, left, and Hugo Sattelmeier.
David Jackson/Park Record

“Once Upon a Mattress” is also the first YouTheatre production to cast third- and fourth-graders, Varas said.

“Normally, our big musicals cast students in fifth grade and up, but we added what we call a youth chorus — 12 kids who are in third and fourth grades and 12 kids who are older,” he said. “We also have two dance captains in the youth chorus, who learned all the dances.”

With the younger kids in mind, Varas appointed what he calls “Youth Wranglers” to help.

“We haven’t had to use them,” he said with a laugh. “The youth chorus members have been so professional. They show up on time and know their stuff. They know the songs and choreography.”

One of the more noticeable changes Varas has done with this show is turning two characters into puppets.

The minstrel is a puppet performed by Simone Shannon, and there is a character called the Silent King who is a two-person live puppet, performed by Hugo Sattelmeier and Kaia Swisher, he said.

“We think these puppets work out really well,” he said.

Varas’ favorite song in the production is “Happily Ever After,” which comes in the middle of the second act.

“It’s really belty, and I love belty songs,” he said. “The choreography reminds me of the new musical ‘Six,’ which is about Henry the VIII’s wives. There are a lot of striking poses and some great solos. It’s pretty epic, and it’s one that all the kids cheer for.”


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