New director helps South Portland students stage ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A new director is making his debut at South Portland High School with the musical “Once Upon a Mattress,” which opens this weekend.

John York, 53, has been the auditorium manager at the high school since 2003.

He has also been involved in community theater by designing sets, acting and working as a co-director and director. York has been a stage hand with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees since 2009.

The show features more than 70 South Portland students, including the pit orchestra. The play is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s traditional fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.”

Shows are Friday through Sunday this weekend and again for three days beginning Friday, Feb. 3. The Jan. 29 performance will feature an American Sign Language interpretation. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. The play is a little over two hours, including intermission.

“It is a relatively short show, but it is fun and funny,” York said.

York said an unusual casting approach was employed. He said normally a play would be chosen and then students would try out for a particular role. Instead, he said students auditioned for the musical and then – based on the strengths of the students, the music director, the choral director and himself – the group selected the musical.

Ben Donnangelo, 17, a junior who portrays Prince Dauntless, said he likes to work with York.

“He’s not afraid to tell us what he thinks,” Donnangelo said. “He has an image and he’s not afraid to do what he needs to to get that image across.” Donnangelo said he plans to study music in college.

Senior Emma Jones, who portrays Lady Larken, has been in high school musicals for four years, and she sings in two duets and a trio.

“It’s been great to see (York) step up to his new role. John know the ropes pretty well,” Jones said.

Senior Owen Doane, 18, plays the Jester. Doane started participating in the high school musical since the fifth grade and has performed every year, including in “Les Miserables,” “Shrek,” “Mary Poppins” and “Pippin.” Doane says he enjoys playing trombone and has played in the pit orchestra at Biddeford City Theater.

Doane said one of the things he enjoys best about the musical is how the students develop close relations with other actors and they become the “family off the stage.”

Senior Gwyneth Zelmanow, 17, plays a Lady in Waiting, and it’s her first time being in a high school musical. She said she “never had the guts to try out. I always had stage fright. It took a lot out of me to do this,” Zelmanow said.

Zelmanow said she is pushing herself more to “do what makes me happy, singing and performing.” Zelmanow also performs with the South Portland Chamber Singers at the school.

Erica Glidden, 16, a junior, plays Princess Winnifred. Erica has previously had ensemble roles the past two years.

“All ages can enjoy the show. Kids are going to enjoy the fairy tale aspects. There is laughter aimed at adults,” Glidden said.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland High School students Alicia Currie, 18, left, Jasmine McKenzie, 17, and Amelia Papi, 17, right, prepare for a dress rehersal of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

John York directs South Portland High School students during a dress rehersal of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Owen Doane, 18, performs during a dress rehearsal of “Once Upon a Mattress” at South Portland High School.

The entire cast of “Once Upon a Mattress”performs the closing number during a dress rehersal at South Portland High School.