What do a lucky foot, an ex-convict on community service, and an over achieving “daddy’s girl” have in common? The “25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” of course! Student’s from a wide array of studies on the University Campus participated in the on-stage performance at black box theater Mar. 31 through Apr. 2.
Rachel Sheinkin wrote the initial script, with music and lyrics by William Finn. The initial Broadway adaptation was directed by James Lapine and produced by David Stone and James L. Nederlander (names synonymous with Broadway performances) along with a host of others. The combined efforts of the team awarded the production two Tony Awards.
The stellar rendition of this dramatization would have garnered the same awards had it been seen by more than BlackBox Theater could hold on those nights. The group solicited continuous thunderous applause, as scene after scene was rendered flawlessly. Without spoiling too much of the play for those who are anxious to see it, here is a brief break down the performance.
The stage is set in the fictitious Putnam County and tells the story of a stand-off of between six finalists in the County’s Spelling Bee, all with their unique quirks. The stage play engages each student along with its side characters by giving brief back-story while fleshing out the underlying theme each one represents.
Unexpectedly themes like redemption, self-worth and satisfaction, young love, and perseverance played pivotal roles in the production hitting several chords with attendees.
The initial opening scene, which consisted of Junior Theater major Emily Kochanski, drew the crowd in with the vitality she brought to her role of Rona Lisa Peretti. The beautiful and charismatic teacher was adequately supported by the snarky yet oddly engaging Lois Martinez as Vice Principal Douglas Panch. The duo volleyed word after word to the contestant while injecting witty humor with a guiding hand that tempered the contestants.
The performance continuously engaged the audience by breaking the third wall and speaking directly to them. One segment of the production requires audience participation, which kept patrons on the edge of their seat! Cassidy Reidenbach, one of the local attendees, said she was extremely excited to participate in the event.
“I would definitely be willing to participate again if I was asked to and I certainly would watch it again,” Reidenbach said.
Alicia Corts, director of the dramatization in her notes wrote, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a show about six children who get that chance to show off their special skills in spelling. Sure they’re a little rough around the edges, but they see the goal and work to achieve it. They may not quite have their sense of style down, their lives figured out, or even be able to tie their own shoelaces, but there are glimpses of the adults they will become.”
Adequately expressing this further, Corts continued, “We (teachers) have the chance to show young men and women the heights that they’re capable of. Excellence is one of our core values here at Saint Leo, and the spellers in Putnam certainly are striving for that perfection. But when they fail, they learn important lessons about another core value: Personal Development.”
These over-arcing themes represent many students in their daily lives, their interdependence on people and situations working in their favor and their daily struggle to be better than the day before and an innate desire to excel while helping those we love.