'Spelling Bee' musical comedy to explore surviving childhood

The autumn play at SUNY Oswego will spell f-u-n as the theatre and music departments present what director Mark Cole calls the “tuneful, joyful and wildly comical” musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Cast members of the Putnam County Spelling Bee student presentation
The production—featuring antic “word nerds” (and four audience members) battling for fame, honor and a trip to Washington, D.C.—won two Tony Awards on Broadway.

“Spelling Bee” will preview Thursday, Oct. 13, and run the weekends of Oct. 14 and 15 and Oct. 21 to 23 at Waterman Theatre in the college’s Tyler Hall. Curtain will rise at 8 p.m. each day except the 2:30 p.m. finale on Sunday, Oct. 23.

“This tuneful, joyful and wildly comic musical is about the transformation that is possible when there is nowhere to hide and the pressure of competition forces a person to survive,” said Cole, professor of theatre at SUNY Oswego. “The show mixes parody and satire with poignant observations about the pangs of the pre-teenage years, all told through the lens of a local spelling bee.

“Of course in some instances, the adults end up acting more childishly than the children. It’s the essential quest tale, the pursuit of treasure against the odds.”

Student cast

First produced off-Broadway in 2005, the musical centers on the final rounds of the Putnam County Spelling Bee, featuring six champions and near champions, along with four audience volunteers each show, who play out the high stakes contest in a local gymnasium.

The competitors will include Chip Tolentino (Erik Shuler), on the cusp of adolescence; Logainne Schwarzandgrubeniere (Jennifer Pratt), who’s trained relentlessly by her two “dads”; Leaf Coneybear (Dylan Duffy), who has been told all his young life that he’s not smart; William Barfee (Nathan Keep), carrying a “Magic Foot” that he relies on to spell; Marcy Park (Jessica Quindlen), on track to become the youngest high school freshman in parochial school history; and Olive Ostrovsky (Jaclyn Mienkiewicz), who has depended on her friend, the dictionary, to sustain her.

The play’s adults include Rona Lisa Peretti (Ariel Marcus), longtime hostess of the bee and a winner herself years before; Doug Panch (Aaron Londraville), the aggressive “word pronouncer”; and Mitch Mahoney (Dan Williams), the comfort counselor who is ready with a hug and a juice box for misspellers.

Cole said audience members who wish to fill out the cast should sign up before each performance, and four will be chosen from the list. “This novel feature of the production adds the spirit of spontaneity and improvisation to the proceedings, making each performance unique,” he said.

Talented faculty

Dr. Clay Price, in his first year as visiting assistant professor of music and director of choral activities at SUNY Oswego, is music director for “Spelling Bee,” which features the music and lyrics of William Finn (“Falsettos” and “A New Brain”).

Choreographer is Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell, who teaches dance at the college and has choreographed several Oswego productions—“The April Witch,” “1940s Radio Hour,” “Big: The Musical,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Devils, Soldiers and Souls”—and recently choreographed, with Aisha Mitchell, the Syracuse Opera production “The Pearl Fishers.”

Other members of the production team include scene and lighting designer Tim Baumgartner, costume designer Kitty Macey, assistant music director Wojciech Milewski and accompanist Rebecca Horning.

Students crewing the play include stage manager Cecilia Widomski, assistant stage managers Rebecca McCarthy and Melissa Lampman and dramaturgs Hannah McHale and Alexandra Levy.

Tickets for the play, suggested for children 12 and older, cost $5 for the preview and $15 ($12 for seniors ages 62 and over, children 17 and younger, and SUNY Oswego faculty and staff; $7 for SUNY Oswego students) for the regular run. Tickets are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at http://tickets.oswego.edu and by calling 312-2141. Parking is free in campus lots on evenings and weekends for those attending “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Word nerds—Antic spellers and quirky adults will sing, dance and laugh through the SUNY Oswego theatre and music departments’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” previewing Thursday, Oct. 13, and running the weekends of Oct. 14 and 15 and Oct. 21 to 23. Lusting after the bee’s trophy are the student cast’s spellers, from left rear, Aaron Londraville, Jennifer Pratt, Jessica Quindlen, Dylan Duffy and Nathan Keep. In front, from left, are spellers Jaclyn Mienkiewicz and Erik Shuler, along with the bee’s adult host Ariel Marcus (holding the clipboard).


(Posted: Sep 16, 2011)

Tags: theatre, theater, none, music