Spelling Bee Crams For Friday Night Opening
Spelling Bees; they probably conjure up different images for different people. I never participated in one growing up, so my image of spelling bees is of Rebecca Sealfon, the 1997 winner who literally screamed her final and winning word one letter at a time, E! U! O! N! Y! M! EUONYM!!
The Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre, under the Direction of Jennifer Bohlig is staging the Tony Award winning musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee beginning Friday May 6th for a seven show run ending on Sunday May 15th. This is a musical comedy from the mind of Rebecca Feldman about 10 Middle School competitors and three adult administrators spelling, fussing, singing and dancing toward an eventual winner.
Well, Middle School competitors is a bit of a stretch, in truth we have 6 young adults acting like 12 year old kids. It is this element that gives the show its comedy appeal. There is something very entertaining about adults portraying children on stage. The formula works along with a wonderful musical score making this show a popular event everywhere it is staged.
In addition to the core cast of spellers, 4 audience volunteers will unwittingly be made to look foolish each performance by the competition word pronouncer; Vice Principal Douglas Panch, who must be kept in line by competition hostess Rona Peretti. Rounding out the cast of adult characters is recent parolee Mitch Mahoney doing community service as the “comfort counselor” to defeated spellers.
Each character has his or her own special gift and tragic flaw. Balancing the stress of high level competition with brains, plus their gifts and their weaknesses each speller is highlighted in song and antics expertly presented as the story progresses. Let’s work our way down the list in order of appearance.
Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Amy Patterson, is in charge of the Bee, Putnam County’s # 1 realtor and a former spelling bee champion. Rona enthusiastically takes on her duty as Master of Ceremonies while smoothly evading the unwanted advances of her co-host and word pronouncer Vice Principal Doug Panch.
Chip Tollentino our oldest casted competitor, is played by Kevin Cushing, Chip is the returning champion of the 24th annual Bee, a Boy Scout, bright, assertive and self-assured, the alpha male of the competition and a boy entering manhood. Let’s just say Chip’s weakness will be manifested by an unfortunate ‘growing’ pain.
Logainne (Pronounced Logan) SchwartzandGrubeniere our youngest competitor played by Georgia Roth, Schwartzy speaks with a lisp, has two dads, is very politically active and is perhaps the best coached speller by her hovering and ultra-competitive father Carl.
Leaf ConeyBear is a home schooled competitor played by Trevor Kastein. Leaf, who placed 3rd in his regional Bee, slid into the competition when the top 2 competitors from his district had to withdraw. Leaf is most likely ADHD, and is our underdog who discovers that he is not as far behind intellectually as the other kids in the Bee as his assertive family thinks that he is.
William Morris Barfee played by Mark Lefeber, is a perennial top competitor that had to withdraw from the 24th Annual Bee due to an unfortunate mishap with a peanut laced brownie snack. Barfee has a myriad of health issues, is overweight and pretends to be a bully to deflect from his obvious lack of social graces. William does, however possess a “magic” foot that assists him in the process of spelling difficult words.
Marcy Park, recent transfer to Putnam County is played by Meg Scullin. Marcy is the classic overachieving kid. Private education, devout Catholic, and a top 10 finisher in last year’s National Spelling Bee competition. The other kids seemingly do not stand a chance against this girl. Her weakness? Winning has become a job, not a joy.
Olive Ostrovsky is a shy, soft spoken first time competitor played by Jessica Lee. Olive is an only child being raised by absentee parents and a well-worn dictionary. Olive’s mom is all about “me time”, while her father compensates for his wife’s self-absorption by throwing himself into his work. Leaving Olive alone to do little more than escape into her friendly dictionary and the words she loves so much. Olive’s character develops the most and is, at the end the most likeable.
Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Ron Wilkie, our competition word pronouncer is a frustrated Middle School administrator whose career and personal life have never developed the way he envisioned them. Leaving him angry, sarcastic and disengaged from everything. Everything, that is except for Rona Lisa Peretti whom he has an unhealthy but humorous infatuation with.
Mitch Mahoney, our Comfort Counselor is played by Rick Ramirez. Mitch is a recent parolee who is fulfilling the community service requirement of his probation by handing out a juice box and a hug to spellers after they are eliminated from the Bee. To say that Mitch is awkward in his comforting duty would be an understatement.
Each performance will feature 4 audience spellers in Act 1. They are encouraged to spell to the best of their ability and play along with the cast members when prompted to do so. There will be no surprises, each audience speller will have volunteered prior to lights up and be given instructions on how the process works.
I’m blessed to play VP Panch. A role that gets to adlib as the show progresses. I like impromptu situations on stage, so this role is right up my alley. The casted spellers require scripted spelling words and definitions when it is their turn to spell. The audience spellers however, are a whole different game. The beauty of the audience speller is giving them typical or difficult words used in ridiculously funny sentences, or give them ridiculously easy words designed to anger the casted spellers. My challenge to the viewing audience is to guess when Panch is scripted and when he is adlibbing!
Nominated for 6 Tony Awards in 2005, The Bee won twice. One for best book of a musical and one for the lead actor who portrayed William. Dialogue and storyline won the award, but for my money the music drives the story. We have some wonderful voices on stage. Each speller has at least 2 featured songs, Mitch has a rousing Act 1 ender and The I Love You Song is a real tear jerker near the end of Act 2.
Jessica Lee’s voice in her first BDACT leading role is perfect for Olive, the girl with a “lovely little voice.” Meg Scullin and Rick Ramirez have been crowd favorite voices in many BDACT productions. Mark Lefeber makes his first BDACT lead role, but has been in multiple musical leads in Fond du Lac and Portage, plus multiple Cabaret performances for the Columbus Red Bud Players. Kevin Cushing and Trevor Kastein are also regular BDACT musical performers whose voices are well suited for their characters. Amy Patterson’s voice leads us through many story progressing lyrics. This Panch is mesmerized by her lovely voice and enthusiastic style.
Listening to the ensemble for the past 6 weeks has been a treat. You will love them too.
The Orchestra Includes:
Amy Throndsen - Director
Paul Kennedy – Piano
Maria Oldenburg - Synthesizer (with Mary Irwin filling in for one show)
Selena Esquivel – Clarinet
Alexis Conkey – Alto Saxophone
Russell Diggins – Trombone
Andrew Booker – Drums/Percussion
Easton Meier – Drums/Percussion
Tickets Available On Line or At Rechek's Food Pride:
The crew includes:
Elissa Ewert – Stage Manager
Jill Kaufmann – Producer
Mark Lefeber – Vocal Director
Paul Kennedy – Accompanist
Amy Throndsen – Orchestra Director
James Steffen – Light Design and Technician
Elaina Bohlig – Sound Technician
Laurel Connolly – Costume Design
Georgia Roth - Choreography
Christina Miller – House Manager
Jen Espenscheid – Promotion
Putnam County Spelling Bee Trailerhttps://www.facebook.com/ryantmk/videos/10153026203714567/?ref=notif¬if_t=video_processed¬if_id=1462324689805271