Harrison High’s musical theater finale opens tonight

The curtain comes down this weekend on the Harrison High musical theatre program, with its first-ever production of “Once Upon a Mattress”.

The 49-year-old Farmington Hills high school will close at the end of this school year. The City of Farmington Hills plans to turn the building and grounds into a community and arts center.

Once Upon a Mattress Harrison High
Harrison High’s final musical, “Once Upon a Mattress”, opens tonight in the school auditorium. (Sue Cobb)

About 90 students and alumni are involved with the spring production, either on stage or behind the scenes. Junior Maxwell Martin plays Prince Dauntless the Drab, son of King Sextimus (Ben Corsi), who is cursed and unable to speak, and his terror of a wife, Queen Aggravain (Ebony Matthews), who keeps Dauntless single by requiring any potential wife to pass her tests.

Once Upon a Mattress Harrison High School
From left, Prince Dauntless the Drab (Maxwell Martin) dances with Winnifred the Woebegone (Elizabeth Kagan) in a scene from “Once Upon a Mattress”. (Sue Cobb) 

No one in the kingdom can marry until Dauntless does, so a desperate Sir Harry (Justin Bugeja) finds Princess Winnifred the Woebegone (Elizabeth Kagan), who lives in the swamps. Everyone in the kingdom loves her, but will Winnifred pass Queen Aggravain’s test?

Junior Maxwell Martin says playing the hapless prince has had its share of challenges. Acting childish and innocent has been a little uncomfortable for him, but it all comes down to playing “a super hilarious character,” he said.

A veteran of the local youth dance group Earth Angels, Martin has performed in six Harrison shows, following in the footsteps of his older sister. The extra-curricular activity has made him a better person, he said, and allowed him to have some fun along the way.

But this show feels a little different.

“It definitely made things seem a lot more important,” Martin said. “There’s a different feeling throughout the school. This is it for Harrison, so I’ve really got to do my best.”

Harrison High School Once Upon a Mattress
From left, Winnifred the Woebegone (Elizabeth Kagan) plays the lute as Lady Rowena (Emma Miesner) looks on. (Sue Cobb)

Junior Emma Miesner, who plays Lady Rowena, came up with the show tagline – “Theater is family, and family is forever”. Still, she doesn’t think much about this being the school’s last musical unless someone brings it up.

“It doesn’t hit you in the face until it happens,” she said.

In the meantime, she enjoys her role, that of a lady whose mission is to help Winnifred marry Dauntless.

“I really like how quirky the characters are, but with quirky characters comes the challenge of playing them… taking the characters and making them your own,” she said.

Miesner, who has also performed in the last six Harrison shows, said she hopes the audience gets not only a great story, but the story behind the musical: the relationships that form among the cast members.

“It really is amazing how people make friends in the program,” she said.

“Once Upon a Mattress” also marks the end of a decades-old partnership among adult directors Dean and Sue Cobb, and Lucy Koviak, who started working together in 1990. Kathy Seremet and Peggy Babcock round out the adult team.

While the musical is a first for Harrison, the Cobbs directed the show three times when they worked at North Farmington High. They chose it for Harrison’s swan song because it fits the talented cast and “so it doesn’t feel like the end,” Sue Cobb said. 

While everyone worries about the kids, she believes they’re taking this emotional experience better than the adults.

“We think theater kids are very special,” she said. “They’re going to be okay.”

You can see “Once Upon a Mattress” at 7:30 p.m. March 21-23, and at 2 p.m. on March 23, in the Harrison High School auditorium, 29995 W. 12 Mile Rd.

All seats are reserved: $12 for students and seniors (60+) and $15 for adults. You can purchase tickets at the door or through the box office at 248-888-6274. More photos and information are posted at facebook.com/Harrison-High-School-Theater-926919850653339/