Joining forces for the Spring Term musical play production, the Music and Theatre Departments presented a satirical take on middle school spelling bees in the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The play is an adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical that centers on a group of quirky adolescents competing in a highly-intense county spelling bee.
The actors and actresses playing the young competitors in “Bee” successfully captured the emotional rollercoasters of each character by creating their own defining idiosyncrasies.
One of the competitors was Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Alexa Rodriguez-Pagano ’16. Logainne exuded awkwardness and insecurity because of constant pressure to practice spelling from her two dads, played by Jaleel Williams ’15 and David Benedict ’15.
In a particularly strong rendition of the piece “Woe is Me,” Logainne argued with her fathers as she lamented her fear of disappointment as well as her subsequent determination to win the Bee.
Another speller, Leaf Coneybear, played by Tom Burnett ’15, is the youngest child of a dysfunctional family. Though he was only the second runner-up in his school’s spelling bee, Leaf was allowed to compete in the county bee because the winner and first runner-up had to attend the winner’s Bat Mitzvah.
While Leaf often appeared dazed and unfocused, he gained confidence as the bee progressed. In his rendition of the song “I’m Not That Smart,” Leaf revealed that his older siblings constantly belittled him, an act that led to Leaf’s low self-esteem.
“Playing Leaf was such a blast. Inside, I’m really a nine year old with ADHD. I have a lot in common with Leaf. I’m messy, spazzy and goofy. I like to laugh and play too much. Being able to have personal connections with him makes it even more fun,” said Burnett.
Other competitors in the county bee also included William Barfée, a stereotypical nerd who suffers from a sinus infection, played by Charles Stacy ’16, the always nervous and lonely Olive Ostrovsky played by Rebecca Cheng ’14 and Marcy Park, a ruthless and extremely competitive speller played by Sophiya Chiang ’14.
The combination of the unique personalities of the different characters drove the play forward and made the plot come alive.
The richness in emotion and energy of Cheng’s rendition of “My Friend the Dictionary” reflected Olive’s longing for solace in the order and comprehensiveness of the dictionary while her mother goes on a spiritual journey and her father works long hours.
While “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” revolved around the young spelling bee contestants, the students playing the adults who run the bee managed to steal the show. Organizer Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Anna Stacy ’13, was running the bee because she had never quite gotten over the excitement of the bee she won as a child. On the other hand, Mitch Mahoney, played by Jason Teng ’13, was a secretly tender-hearted convict who was forced to help with the bee to complete his community service requirements.
“Anna was really good! Her character was really perky, and I like how she was always laughing. It was awkward but showed how enthusiastic she was. She was like a sports announcer! Her voice was very high, which made her character sound very hyper and girlish,” said Joyce Wang ’15.
In one scene between Marcy Park and Rona Lisa, Marcy burst into tears after Rona Lisa mistakenly stated that Marcy speaks five languages instead of six. Marcy, close to an emotional breaking point, angrily corrected her by saying that she actually speaks six.
“Does it say I only sleep three hours a night, I hide in the bathroom cabinet and I’m not allowed to cry?” said Chiang’s character, Marcy.
In the ensuing solo song, Marcy lamented the pressure that she could no longer handle and then intentionally misspelled her word because of her desire to have more freedom and control over her life.
Along with the constant unveiling of the characters’ personal lives and sources of stress, the musical also incorporated audience interaction.
Four audience members were called up at the beginning of the show to compete in the bee. The activity led to amusing made-up facts about each competitor, one of whom was Roxanne Barry, Director of Summer Opportunities, who was said to “currently have no plans for the summer.”
The play soon resumed and competition was eventually whittled down to William Barfée, who was as determined as ever to win, and Olive, who had realized her true passion for spelling. Barfée ultimately won, but both competitors were able to find friendship and peace with each other.
“I liked that Barfée has his apparent physical flaws as well as his inner flaw, despite his sociopathic nature. I like how he finally finds sanction with Olive, who is the only one who sees past his aggressive attitude, and makes him feel compassion once in his life,” said Stacy.
The musical ended with brief updates on each character’s life since the bee. The cast, both the spellers and the bee officials, gathered to sing the finale song, in which they say, “at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling bee, we grew up undeniably.”
“In the show, we really wanted to convey the high pressure that all the children were under, whether it was from their parents or their peers. It was the most important idea in the show because it relates the most to our everyday lives at Andover. That’s what made the cast’s connection to the script so powerful,” said Rodriguez-Pagano.