As the audience members arrived to fill the seats in Wilder Main on Saturday afternoon, I whispered to my friend who was sitting next to me, “I hope I can come up with enough to write. I don’t know if I really like musicals.”
Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee kept me grinning throughout the production, and judging from the frequent laughter of the audience, I wasn’t the only one.
The one-act show chronicled the events at the finals of Putnam County’s regional spelling bee, where six eccentric elementary and middle schoolers competed for a spot at nationals.
Though the musical was confined to a single afternoon in the school gymnasium, the characters’ external lives and personalities were fleshed out in a number of ways. As each student took his or her turn at the microphone, the moderator announced funny tidbits of information about the contestants — for example, “Leaf Coneybear makes his own clothes.” We learned more about these characters’ desires and conflicts during flashbacks and musical numbers, which elucidated the contestants’ objectives, temperaments, family situations and growing pains.
By the end of the show, a romantic plot- line developed between the two finalists, Olive Ostrovsky, played by Conservatory senior Maggie Sczekan, whose parents aren’t able to make it to the bee, and William Barfée, played by College first-year Phil Wong, who has one working nostril and a peanut allergy. However, their story was not the main focus of the show — it was more of an ensemble performance. The script highlighted every character, giving each child a distinct personality and a unique story, and allowing every actor a chance to shine.
And indeed, they did shine. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Every actor played his or her role in a delightfully exaggerated manner, with over-the-top voices, mannerisms and swaggers. The sweet, clumsy Leaf Coneybear, played by College sophomore Jake Myers, giggled hysterically whenever the moderator, played by College first-year Charles Dolph, gave him a word to spell, and then proceeded to spell his assigned words in a trance, slapping at his thigh with each letter.
The precocious Logainne Schwartzandgru- benierre, the youngest contestant, played by College first-year Lizzie Parmenter, maintained a concerned, wide-eyed expression. Marcy Park, a brusque over-achiever with pigtails, played by College first-year Sarah Bernstein, spent most of the show with a fixed scowl on her face — so when she finally smiled, after realizing that she didn’t always have to be good at everything all the time, her joy was palpable.
The most notable thing about The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is its inclusion of audience members in the performance. At the beginning of the show, the moderator called the names of three people who had volunteered beforehand. These lucky few ventured onstage, where the cast welcomed them. The volunteers received numbers to put around their necks and took seats on the bleachers. They took their turns at the microphone, attempting to spell words like the rest of the cast members; the words given to the audience members ranged from “cow” to “catterjoons” (not a real word). They were also drawn into a kickline during the song “Magic Foot,” when William Barfée sang about his unique spelling technique — using his foot to write out the word on the floor.
The cast members all approached the show with a refreshing lightheartedness, belting out songs using high voices and lisps and skipping around the stage with abandon. They seemed to be having just as much fun as the audience, and the audience members laughed throughout — at least, I did.