ESCANABA – The COVID 19 pandemic has forced a pause on many beloved traditions, so it truly feels like home to attend “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” with Players de Noc. For those of you whose spelling has drifted since your school days, fear not – this play by William Finn and Rebecca Feldman is a hilarious game that will disarm and delight you.
Our cast includes six champions vying for the illustrious #1 title, including last year’s winner Chip Tolentino (played with great precision and embarrassment by Tim Haagensen), the irresistibly enthusiastic Logainne Schwarzandgrubennier ( Mariah Lee), the goofy enthusiast Leaf Coneybear (Brian Tourangeau), the painfully odd William Barfee (Evan Schoff), an inspiring ice queen Macy Park (Autumn Fournier) and the sincere Olive Ostrovsky (Robin Gavriloff). They’re guided by former Spelling Royal student Rona Lisa Perretti (Cathy Wilson), high-strung vice-principal Dana Panch (Christine Madalinski), and some mean muscle from Mitch Mahoney (Travis Dubord).
The Spelling Bee shape is one you’ll recognize and the music is unforgettable. This year’s pit orchestra propels singing, dancing, and…well, spelling, with plenty of pizzazz (i.e. the quality of being exciting or appealing): Sydney Ogren, Ariella Murray , Trisha LeMire, Trevor Sebeck, Whitney Massie, Rachel Capon and Dave Potvin. The hushed suspense and utter pandemonium of teenage competition requires the experienced poise of sound designers Pat Feldhusen and Kerry Madalinski.
On stage, each character shines with their costumes (Beth Peterson), their accessories (Jenny Heller), their make-up and their lighting (Lauren Hovland). The whole play takes place in a gymnasium so authentic you’ll sweat like a college kid with the wrong spelling. Set design and construction were done by Jamie Peterson, Allen Palmgren, Pete Ammel, Pete Dzanbozoff and Jim Soderberg, with paintings by Jolie (and Pete) Dzanbozoff, Jenny Heller and Kris Hovland. Stage managers Kris Hovland and (behind the scenes) Jenny Heller made this production possible, along with marketing by Sam Komay, graphic design by Laura Haagensen and house manager Jesse Traub.
While you won’t see them compete directly this year, two champions of the arts deserve special recognition: director Jeff Woerpel and music director Tom Knoll. These seasoned leaders know how to rally a troupe of amateurs to a production of STARS. They can literally pull volunteers from the public if they need to.
Whether you’re a gregarious grammarian or a lazy lexiconologist, this piece will remind you of the diversity of experiences that surround us. Maybe it will also inspire something in you, to be brave, to have fun, to make friends, maybe even – to audition…
Performances will take place at the Bonifas Fine Arts Theater in Escanaba on September 23, 24, 28, 29, 30 and October 1 at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a matinee on September 25 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door, on playersdenoc.org, or at Bonifas reception during normal opening hours.