Every year at this time, Joey Murello is busy directing a summer youth production for Stone Soup Children’s Musical Theater in Noblesville.
This year is no exception.
“My only hope is the children have a good time, learn a little bit about theater and want to come back next year,” Murello, 37, has told me in past years.
This summer, she’s directing 30 children, elementary age to middle-schoolers, in “Once Upon A Mattress” musical.
The show is on stage for three performances, at 7 p.m. today and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday at The Auditorium at The Annex at Ivy Tech in Noblesville. Tickets are still available at eventbrite.com and at the door.
Being around theater all of her life, Murello wouldn’t let the stage go dark a year ago when the pandemic was at its height. There were 33 children in the 2020 kids show, “Alice in Wonderland.”
For the 2021 show, Murello returns with an amazing team of helpers. Amber Harvey returns as producer. Katie Maudlin returns as assistant director. Abby Pittman, a Noblesville High School junior and a former actress in the program who aged out two years ago, has returned as a student assistant. Trish Morris-Butler also got a special shoutout for being the most amazing costumer and miracle worker.
The choreographer for “Once Upon A Mattress” this year is Melina Bartzis, a dancer from White River Ballet Co. She has put together some really fun numbers that the kids love.
Like the other elements in the show, the music is very humorous, the director and assistant director agreed. The style of music varies from song to song. Murello’s personal favorite is “Song of Love,” which is a really fun group number that involves cheers and really exciting choreography. There is quite a bit of music in this show with most of the songs being solos, although there are a few big group numbers, as well.
Stone Soup Children’s Musical Theatre is an all-inclusive, non-profit organization that has been nurturing children’s artistic development in Noblesville since 1991.
Both Stone Soup and White River Ballet Co. (the dance program) are subsidiaries of The Dancin’ Place in Noblesville, which offers dance classes, especially ballet. Stone Soup’s rehearsals started out at The Dancin’ Place and moved to Ivy Tech for tech week, which is the week prior to opening night.
Maudlin, who was found up in the light booth on Wednesday morning, talked more about the show.
She and Murello agreed that their greatest challenge this year has been teaching the young cast how to channel their pent up social energy into their characters. “Coming out of a pandemic where kids haven’t been able to socialize normally in over a year, the actors are very excited to work with each other and hang out with one another again which is great, and we are so happy to provide them with that opportunity now that things are safer and healthier, but sometimes that can lead to kids being a bit chatty and distracted.”
They chose “Once Upon A Mattress” this year for some specific reasons. “We knew coming out of a pandemic that we wanted to give the kids a chance to do a show where they could have a lot of fun, something not super serious, where they could really let their imaginations fly,” Maudlin said.
“Once Upon A Mattress” is a very funny show that incorporates “fantastical elements” and is set in a time period with kings and queens, “so the kids get to really use their imaginations and have a lot of fun,” she said.
The cast has been rehearsing three hours a day, four days a week, since the beginning of June.
It’s definitely nice getting back to normal, the director and assistant director agreed. Getting to see the kids interacting with one another after so long of not being able to see each other is really special, they said.
“We could tell from the beginning that the kids were very excited to see each other. The kids have so much energy this year,” Maudlin said.
She also wanted to draw some attention to another group of helpers, and said, “We have an amazing team of parents and grandparents who work to put together our props, costumes and sets.”
During dress rehearsals on Wednesday morning, Murello, with a big smile on her face, motored around on the stage in her power wheelchair, giving instructions to the cast and crew. A 2002 graduate of Noblesville High School, she was a middle-school student when she was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a disease that affects motor skills and started with poor coordination and clumsiness and worsened in high school.
Murello, a graduate of Anderson University with a General Education degree, sang in her high school’s show choir and acted as a child in at least seven shows with Stone Soup, starting in 1991 as an actress and aging out in 1998, and performed in plays and musicals as a kid at The Belfry Theatre, where her late mom, Connie Murello-Todd, directed 22 shows from 2002 until 2017, including 14 Belfry Apprentice Players summer youth productions. Murello helped direct and producer alongside her mom. She also performed at NHS from 1999 to 2002.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.