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Musical ‘spelling bee’ calls audience to the stage

Published on May 02, 2023

Musical ‘spelling bee’ calls audience to the stage

Eastern’s Theatre & Performance Media Program debuted its final show and first musical of the 2022-23 school year during a two-week run this April. The former Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows six middle schoolers competing in their regional spelling bee.

Alongside students, Eastern alumni and faculty worked to put on the show. Directed by Tim Golebiewski, lecturer and lighting technology specialist, with musical direction by Melanie Guerin and choreography by Amber Houde ’22 and Cassie Champagne ’22, the production presented crowds with lively songs, comical audience participation and stories of each student showing much more than their spelling skills.

The quirky cast of pre-teens — including an exceptional speller with absent parents, Olive Ostrovsky (Jillian Martin ’26); an exceptional speller with overbearing parents, Logainne Scharzandgrubenniere (Zolah Daley ’26); and a student who spelled with his feet, William Barfee (Tyler Warren ’26) — began the show by expressing their nerves through song. As the bee began, tensions started to rise, with students continuously spelling words harder than the last and teasing each other in between.

The show also featured equally quirky adults, including a vice principal with anger issues, Douglas Panch (Finn McCarthy ’25); a former spelling bee contestant turned real estate agent, Rona Lisa Perretti (Allison Sawtelle ’23); and a former convict turned comfort counselor, Mitch Mahoney (Karynn Hardy ’25).

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which debuted on Broadway in 2005, is based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an improvisational play created by Rachel Feldman. After seeing the play performed by The Farm, a New-York-based improvisational comedy troupe directed by Feldman, musical writer William Finn and writer Rachel Sheinkin adapted the show for a musical stage. The show went on to be nominated for six Tony’s and won two of them. It has since been performed by casts across the country.

Seventeen faculty, staff, students and alumni came together as members of the production's creative team, working on crucial aspects of the show, including scene and light design, sound engineering and costume design.

Collaboration did not end with the creation of the musical, however. One of the most notable parts of Eastern’s production was the audience participation. Before taking their seats, attendees were asked if they’d like to be a “speller” in the show, a role awarded to only four guests each night. Volunteers were then called to the stage in the midst of a scene and stayed on stage until they spelled a word wrong. Guests participated in scenes with the cast, reacting to lines and dancing on stage.

In his director’s notes addressing audiences, Golebiewski wrote “We hope we made you laugh and forget the outside world for a while. Hopefully, when you remember our time together you’ll smile.”

Written by Molly Boucher