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Backstage with Bruce Pagni

Lights, places, aaand ACTION! 

Once Upon a Mattress, is a charming story about people who may be perceived as different and not good enough for a queen, but who are truly good, worthwhile and should be loved. A musical based on the story “The Princess and the Pea,” the play was showcased May 2nd-4th at Brookside’s Trapp Auditorium. 

Let’s get a little inside look backstage and see what it takes to produce a play!


Producing a play requires A  LOT of work and planning. First, you have to start coordinating with the musical producers to select a play; then plan the set designs and props etc, with the technical producers and finally, having auditions to select the cast. “The main struggle will be to coordinate all the elements of the show. Like integrating the music, dance and dialogue so that it all flows together to tell the story,” says the play’s Director  Bruce Pagni.  Mr. Pagni, who retired in 2001, taught at Waukegan High School for over 30 years: his last position was Chairman of the Communications department.  “Some of the teachers here used to be my students, as well as some of these kids’ parents!  Ha!  I bet even their grandparents were mine!” Mr. Pagni says as he cracks up laughing.

After so many years, wht has made him cone back?

“Well, Ms. Wagner called and asked me to come back because they needed a director. I was very excited, it’s something I just love to do.”

The students cheered when Mr. Pagni walked into the choir room at Brookside campus during rehearsels: “You sound good!” yelled Mr. Pagni.

Now, how about the cast? “Ms. Wagner and I have the tryouts. Students are expected to read from the script and sing songs from the show. Afterwards, we meet and decide on the cast. Casting needs to consider many factors, such as vocal range when deciding who gets what part.” Mr. Pagni explains.

Mackenzie Onan, Brookside senior was one of the main characters, “I play Queen Aggravain. She is a very assertive woman who wants nothing more than her son to stay her “baby boy” forever,” said Onan, who has been acting for eleven years, “I love acting because it’s an escape from everyday life where I can be whoever I want.” Mackenzie smiles, “One day, I could be an astronaut. The next day, a doctor. The day after that, a dinosaur! With acting, the possibilities are ultimately endless.”


“I am very pleased with the cast and the talent that was displayed at auditions. I expect the kids to give it their all at every rehearsal, work hard, but also to have a lot fun in the process,” Mr. Pagni smiles. The directors set up certain standards and expectations for the cast, they have strict rules on attendance and rehearsals. The cast started rehearsing at the beginning of March and worked many days per week.


Interestingly, director Bruce Pagni had also directed the same play back in 1973 while he was a teacher at WHS. As Mr. Pagni explained, “On Friday night, several of [alumni who acted in Once Upon a Mattress then] attended and I recognized them before the start of the show. It was an amazing night and lots of fun for me and them.”

For Mr. Pagni, today’s play is different from the plays he directed back in the 70s, “The music and the story are more in keeping with how musicals were written and performed years ago. The whole structure of the play follows a pattern that is a little different from the structure of today’s more modern musicals.”


There was a good crowd on opening night, laughing at all the funny scenes. The cast seemed to enjoy themselves throughout the play. Once Upon a Mattress was a big hit with its audiences.

Blood, sweat and a whole lot of laughter produced a great play and built friendships.

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