As soon as the audience entered the house, there were delighted gasps and chuckles prompted by the desk-chairs lined up in the risers.
That was only the beginning of Northeastern University Theatre Department’s commitment to bringing the audience back to middle school through “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Scott Edmiston, chair of the theatre department.
The musical was an immersive experience for the audience members, with ushers asking you who you think will win and telling you to “enjoy the bee!” as they led you into the set they called the “gymacafetorium.”
Following the opening number, four audience members, who signed up to volunteer before the show, were called to the stage to join the characters on the gymnasium risers.
Throughout the first half of the play, each audience member was treated as a speller, being asked to spell words from “cow” to “lysergic acid diethylamide” by Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Adam Thomas BCHS’19. Each word had hilarious definitions and example sentences such as, Mexican: a resident of Mexico or an American slang term for anyone from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, South America, or Spain.
The volunteers were pulled from their seats to dance and spin around on the risers during “Pandemonium.” When they misspelled words, the characters sung goodbye to them as Mitch Mahoney, the ex-convict comfort counselor played by guest artist Dave Heard, gave them a hug and a juice box.
Each character had distinct quirks and experienced pre-pubescent turmoil which were introduced through the spelling bee and their musical numbers. The actors were convincingly childish in their costumes, making the numbers incredibly funny.
The actors fully delved into their characters’ personalities—embodying physical quirks and the inexplicable grossness that is part of middle school.
Many of the songs were fantasies that took place within the characters’ heads. This was particularly exciting because the production made these fantasies come to life—a dictionary with angel wings flew in and out of the stage, a magic foot lit up, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre’s demanding fathers appeared from behind doors that appeared to be plainly decorative posters and Jesus appeared as the back wall of the stage swung open.
The set, designed by guest artist Megan Kinneen, and costumes, designed by Beckie Price CAMD’18, was highly realistic. The costumes successfully made viewers feel nostalgic about school, despite the magical moments within the play.
Perhaps the most beautiful and successful part of Edmiston’s production of “Spelling Bee” was his ability to combine the struggles and heartbreak that came with growing up within the hysterical fast paced musical.
Throughout the performance, one could see audience members face-palming during “My Unfortunate Erection” and tears falling during “The I Love You Song” when Olive fantasized about her absent parents loving her.
The hard-hitting experiences packed in this dorky comedy musical were relatable and accurate. Reminding the audience that even now, as college students, a part of their middle school identity will always remain within them.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” ran from March 22 to April 3.
The cast and characters are as follows:
Olive Ostrovsky, played by Gracie Stickert COE’19, soft-spoken girl who described reading a dictionary on her toilet during her childhood in “My Friend the Dictionary.”
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Megan Maloney CAMD’16, a lispy overachieving child politician who struggled to live up to her fathers’ expectations in “Woe is Me.”
Leaf Coneybear, played by Sebastian Alberdi CSSH’17, was home schooled with nine siblings. He lamented the way his large family treated him in “Not That Smart”, but miraculously spelled words correctly whilst experiencing a seizure.
Maloney and Alberdi’s ad-libs were hilarious. They contorted their faces and whispered to each other in response to other spellers, even if they weren’t the focus in a particular scene.
Charles ‘Chip’ Tolentino, played by Lukas Kruegel COE’19, battled with puberty in “My Unfortunate Erection,” and its effect on his usually perfect performance.
William Morris Barfée, played by Chester Domoracki CAMD’16, is lugubrious, rude and greasy-haired, using his foot to spell words in “Magic Foot”.
Marcy Park, played by My Nguyen CAMD’17, expressed her boredom of being the best at everything in “I Speak Six Languages.”
The moderators Rona Lisa Peretti, Rachel Smith CAMD’16, and Panch, were hilariously portrayed. Although, they are traditionally minor characters, they were transformed into exciting characters.
Peretti made biting remarks about audience members’ hairlines and had a wonderfully sarcastic smile as she dealt with children, regularly eliciting a collective “ooooof” from the audience.
Panch had the audience laughing to the point of tears with his ridiculous movements and fantastic ad-lib.
Photos taken by Grant Terzakis courtesy of the Northeastern University Theatre Department.