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25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee

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Sarah Whitten

Starting November 9th, Theatre Roanoke College will be putting on a production of the Tony award winning musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in the Olin Theater. This adult comedy is a hilarious affair that will have the audience laughing from the first orchestra chord until the final curtain.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee chronicles six junior high students from across the county who learn that winning might not actually be everything and that losing does not automatically make you a loser. The Bee is hosted by former Spelling Bee Champion Rona Lisa Pereti (Kat Binney). Binney struts around the stage chewing at the scenery with the delightful decorum reminiscent of Effie Trinket from Hunger Games. She is joined by Vice Principal Douglas Panch of Lake Hemingway-Dos Passos Junior High (Jordon Henderson) who will be the Bee’s word pronouncer. He returns after a five-year hiatus as a last minute substitute for an ailing superintendent and declares that he is in a much better place now than when he left. The pair explains the rules of the Bee and note that when a speller misses a word a bell will ding and the speller will be escorted off the stage by the comfort counselor, Mitch Mahoney (Jeremy O’Brien), an ex-con serving out his community service sentence.

The six contestants are competing for the prowess of being named Spelling Bee Champion and the award of a trophy and a two hundred dollar cash prize. Olive Ostrovsky (Darlene Harris) is a young newcomer to the world of competitive spelling. When the musical begins she is waiting for her father to arrive with the cash deposit for the bee. At an early age she made friends with her dictionary and it has certainly helped her make it to this competition. William Barfée (Johnny Camacho) was a finalist of last year’s bee and was only eliminated because of an allergic reaction to peanuts. His “magic foot” is his secret weapon in this competition and he uses it to spell each and every word he is given during the bee. Camacho, a returning alumnus, steals every scene with his spot-on intonation of a young boy with only one working nostril and a smarmy personality. Just remember, it’s Bar-FAY, not BARF-ee.

Another stand out performance comes from Rachel Leach as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre. She is the youngest and most politically aware speller of the bunch. She has two overbearing homosexual fathers, a predisposition for tidiness, and a particularly thick lisp. Leach not only manages to convincingly lisp throughout her dialogue but also sings with it. It’s quite a feat of comic genius.  Marcy Park (Bailey Howard) is a recent transfer to Putnam from Virginia. She placed ninth in last year’s nationals. Marcy speaks six languages, is a member of all-American hockey, a championship rugby player, and plays Chopin and Mozart on multiple instruments. Marcy attends a Catholic school called “Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows.”

Rebecca Siar takes on the role of Leaf Coneybear a home-schooled boy who was actually the second runner up in his district. When both the winner and runner up are unable to attend because of a conflict with a Bat Mitzvah, Leaf was brought into the competition. He comes from a large family of hippies and makes his own clothing. Many people are surprised, including Leaf, that he keeps correctly spelling words that he does not know how to spell. Rounding out the cast is Geoffrey Cole as Chip Tolentino. Cole is the youngest cast member of the production and takes on the role of last year’s champion. Chip is a boy scout, little league player, and is back to defend his title. He expects that his victory will come easily but, puberty decides to hit at a very inopportune moment.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is directed by Dr. Lisa Warren of the theatre department. Spear heading as Stage Manager is Meagan Cole, a Roanoke College Senior. Assistant Stage Manager is Madeline Hooker, a Junior. The ensemble of this production includes, Austin Gilbert, Rachael Karns, Shapreka Clarke, Liesl Stach, and Lyndee Zeller. S. Reid Carter will be handling all of the orchestration of the production as Music Director. Elyse Hart is the company’s Choreographer, Jennie Ruhland has designed all of the costumes, and George Arthur is the production’s Set Designer.

The production will take place on November 9th and 10th at 7:30 PM, the 11th at 2:00 PM, and on the 16th and 17th at 7:30 PM. All showings will be in the Olin Theatre. Roanoke College students may receive one free ticket, but a second visit costs $10. Doors will open a half an hour before show time. Get out your dictionaries because some audience members will be joining the cast onstage!