Faith, hope, determination: COVID threatens Carson City show

Darby Beckwith is expected back to fill her role of Princess Winnifred in ‘Once Upon A Mattress’ this weekend at the Carson City Community Center.

Darby Beckwith is expected back to fill her role of Princess Winnifred in ‘Once Upon A Mattress’ this weekend at the Carson City Community Center.

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Sometimes living "happily, happily, happily ever after" is much harder than the fairy tale implies.
The Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company cast its production of the comedy “Once Upon a Mattress” in January 2020. This endearing twist of “The Princess and the Pea” has been a longtime audience favorite, replacing the fairy-tale-perfect princess with a weight-lifting, moat-swimming gal yearning for “happily ever after” who wins the hearts of everyone at the castle except the crafty, possessive queen.
After selling a healthy number of tickets and getting the show nearly ready to move into the theater, the world of performing arts moved into quarantine and the show was shut down. During the next few months, they rescheduled the opening twice but were shut down both times due to social distancing requirements.
Finally, 21 months after starting this adventure, the company was able to book a November opening. At the beginning of September, the directors replaced some cast members who had moved and rebuilt the show. They loaded into the theater on Oct. 25 for their first week of technical rehearsals.
"We have a remarkable cast and the show was going incredibly well — so well that I decided to give the cast Friday night off before moving into our last week of technical rehearsals," said WNMTC Producer/Director Stephanie Arrigotti. "In the 31 years of running this company, we have never given the cast a tech night off. I almost wasn't sure who I was anymore. But they were running a tight show and I decided to let them enjoy Nevada Day and Halloween."
Everything changed on Monday morning, Nov. 1, when she received a bombshell text from Darby Beckwith, who was playing the leading role of Princess Winnifred, with a photo of her positive COVID test. Not only was the show left without a leading lady, there was concern about the infection of the rest of the cast.
Arrigotti then learned from the COVID officer, who determined when Darby became symptomatic, that if the Friday night rehearsal hadn’t been canceled, it may have been required to close down the entire show.
While national tours and Broadway shows with hire professional understudies for their major roles, who are content to learn the parts without ever playing them, mid-range ticket companies don't have that cushion. Unless someone else in the cast is right for that particular part, there is no understudy.
And the show, which had run up considerably more than $90,000 in expenses, was opening in four days. The professional orchestra was showing up on Tuesday night.
“We had to replace supporting leads before but never the lead,” Arrigotti said. “In other instances when someone on the cast became sick, they would be there anyway.
"This isn't possible with COVID.”
Needing a replacement immediately, Arrigotti called Melanie Bratsch, who had played one of the leading roles in “Mamma Mia” in 2018.

Millie Bratsch overcame a case of laryngitis and had only four days to learn the part of Princess Winnifred before opening night of Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company’s production of ‘Once Upon A Mattress’ last weekend. Conversing with Millie is Charles Moser, who is playing Prince Dauntless.

 “I told her the truth — that she was born to play this role. Unfortunately, she only had four days to learn it,” Arrigotti said.
Talking her into it wasn't easy.
“She told me she didn't know the show and just couldn't put it together that fast,” Arrigotti said. “She probably said that about six times. All the while, I was online, ordering her costumes.”
“Please just come down to the theater and look at the script,” Arrigotti urged.
Melanie (or Millie, as she is called) showed up and agreed to take on the challenge, launching into a frenzy of choreography, staging, music rehearsals and line drills. All directors, seamstresses, technicians, cast members and musicians worked diligently to help her get ready.
“She worked as hard as a human could work,” Arrigotti said. "Clearly, too hard, because by Wednesday, she completely lost her voice.”
"And here we were, with two fabulous Winnifreds: one with COVID and one mute.”
While Millie needed to be absolutely silent to heal her voice, the line drills continued.
“I would read her cues and she would mouth her lines to me. Lip-reading became a necessary skill.”
By final dress, Millie described her voice as “prepubescent male.” Every third syllable was audible. Arrigotti asked Andie Wilkerson, a strong singer who had been with the company for years, if she would sing Winnifred from the pit.
“This isn't the way our company — any company — wants to move into an opening night,” Arrigotti said.
But she met Millie at 3 p.m. on opening night and Millie ran audible line drills, then ran vocal exercises, trying to warm up.
By 5 p.m., she had her speaking voice back and about two-thirds of her singing voice.
"I thought, ‘Can I do this?’ It was great to learn what I’m able to do in just a short amount of time?” Millie said. “I felt nervous but was so amazed to know Stephanie can think so far ahead and really have ‘the show must go on’ mentality and skill set to do so.”
That night, Arrigotti relayed the series of unfortunate events to the audience who audibly groaned with sympathy. She modified her typical show introduction to: "With faith, hope and a strong dose of determination, the Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company is excited to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’”
"She absolutely slayed the show," Arrigotti said. “She was hilarious. The audience forgave having a singer from the pit and cheered after every number. The company got a full-house standing ovation with three curtain calls."
By Saturday night, Millie sang the show herself.
“She was fabulous, as was the rest of this talented cast,” Arrigotti said. “I’m so immensely proud of her.”
Added Millie, “I was shocked that we as a cast and crew worked together to really pull this together ... I learned so much just by saying yes to this opportunity."
Darby, who was fully vaccinated when infected with COVID, is almost past her quarantine and can't wait to get on stage this weekend to play the dream role she started studying a year and 11 months ago. While deeply missing her time with the cast, who sent her flowers on what would have been her opening night, she has thanked Millie many times for saving the show. Millie is planning to come cheer her on from the audience for the final weekend of the run.
“Doing theater in healthy conditions is wrought with difficulties. Doing theater through COVID brings in a whole new dimension of impending catastrophe,” commented Arrigotti, who also is the Professor of Music at WNC. “When we sent everyone off after the Sunday show, the directors were sounding like worried Moms: 'Wear a mask! Be safe! Don't get sick.’"
Performances of the comedy for the upcoming final weekend are on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St. For tickets, go to For information, phone 775-445-4249.


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