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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 1 month ago

Horizon West Theater Company features young thespians in “Once Upon a Mattress”

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The cast will take the stage this weekend.
by: Jim Carchidi Former Associate Editor

Horizon West Theater Company will spotlight younger members of its theatrical community with its upcoming production of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

The musical comedy, based on the beloved fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” follows the story of Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and the tests she must pass to marry Prince Dauntless and free the kingdom from a curse. The original production opened in 1959 and marked the

Broadway debut of entertainer Carol Burnett, who also starred in its television adaptations.

“There’s something really special about a classic musical theater piece,” Horizon West Theater Company President and show director Melissa Kratish Depot said. “It’s one of those shows that transcends time; the kids may not know the songs, but they know the story.”

This will be the theater company’s first time producing “Once Upon a Mattress,” but it has a special meaning for Depot. 

“I was able to perform in this show when I was a kid, and it was also one of the first shows I directed 15 years ago,” she said.

Gabriella Spotts (right), who plays Queen Aggravain, models as costumer Emily Johnson Cohen adds the finishing touches to her ensemble. Photo credit: Melissa Kratish Depot

Depot grew up performing in South Florida and was part of Orlando-based Florida Theatrical Association from 2002 to 2004. Her career has since focused on the hospitality industry, but her heart remains in theater. She is a founding member of Horizon West Theater Company and has been involved with every production since it opened with “The Music Man” in 2019.

Horizon West Theater Company’s version of “Once Upon a Mattress” is a youth production and more family-friendly than the original. 

Evil duo, the Wizard (Alex Pommells) and Queen Aggravain (Gabriella Spotts) get into character at rehearsal. Photo credit: Melissa Kratish Depot

“It’s slightly different from the traditional version in the sense that there were some themes that maybe weren’t as appropriate for kids,” Depot said. “We did something unique with this production. It’s not the typical kids theater offering, which is sometimes pay-to-play. This is free for the entire community to be involved in. We posted an audition notice and had kids of all ages come. The youngest in our cast is 8, and the oldest is 16.”

The cast has been in rehearsals twice per week, with dress rehearsals scheduled every night beginning Nov. 29. The performance will be hosted at Winter Garden’s Church of the Messiah, but Depot and her team are working on a permanent location.

“We’ve been all around town,” she said. “We are currently fundraising and working with partners in the community.” 

Past productions have taken place at area venues such as the Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas at Hamlin Town Center and the Cypress Center for the Arts at Windermere Preparatory School. But the lack of a permanent venue does not hold the company back or impact its creativity. 

“The really special thing is that we are 100% volunteer-based,” Depot said. “Every single person involved has another day job, and then they come to work with us.”

The company’s wardrobe volunteer is a full-time costumer for Disney Cruise Line; actors flock to auditions when community casting calls are posted; volunteers sign up for a waiting list to be part of future productions.

“We have a volunteer form on our website,” she said. “When we’re ready to staff a show, we reach out to anyone who has indicated interest and we build our teams from there. They do it because they love the arts.”

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Jim Carchidi was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. 

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