It’s near the crepuscule of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and drama students at Vernon Secondary School are preparing for the palaestra of theatrical productions.
The Tony award winning play, which first took the stage on Broadway in 2005, has a way of making the students feel like an acouchi trapped in a vug.
But instead of being lugubrious with a case of omphaloskepsis, the kids improvise in a chimerical way, and approach the bee tittup.
Opening at VSS’s Theatre on the Hill this week, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is filled with some impossible-to-spell words, cheeky pubescent humour, and some mature content and language.
All this may sound like a brave choice for a high school to produce on stage, but the play is a comedy-musical that secondary school-age kids will be to relate to and laugh along with, said VSS drama teacher Laurie Anne Lorge.
“It’s a very different kind of musical. It feels a bit like watching live improv theatre. It has that edgy quality,” said Lorge.
Although the show is about fourth graders, it deals with mature subject matter and viewer discretion is required.
“It’s PG-13, so parents should use their discretion in letting their kids come see it. It pushes the limits and that’s what theatre is supposed to do,” said Lorge. “It has puberty-related issues and is a funny show. It’s not deep or dark. It uses satire and pokes fun at situations.”
The play started as an improvisational show in New York City before it hit Broadway, nominated for seven and winning two Tony awards, and still retains some of its spontaneous feel.
An unusual aspect of the show is that audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the characters, said Lorge.
“Only those who want to participate will be called upon,” she said. “The words are a scream.”
So are the musical numbers, with more than 20 songs sung by the cast. There is also a live band – but don’t expect professional musicians.
“When the kids are done spelling, they go to the band, which acts like a supplement to the music,” said Lorge, adding, “The set is very simple. It looks like a typical classroom.”
Speaking of the cast, the Putnam Valley Middle School characters in the play have names as hard to spell as the words in the bee.
Leaf Coneybear (a role originally played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of Modern Family fame) is played here by a girl.
Emma Eyford describes her character as having ADD (attention deficit disorder).
“She honestly loves life. She is a happy camper, but deep, down inside she know she’s smart,” said Eyford.
Emily Dolphy-King takes on the role of Logainne “Schwarzy” Schwartzandgrubenierre, a mix of her two dads’ last names.
“My parents want me to spell well. They push me hard, but I have a lisp,” said Dolphy-King.
Boy Scout Chip Tolentino (Nick Ksyniuk) has an unfortunate circumstance while he is at the bee, and will reveal the embarrassing details via a song.
Then there’s William Barfée (Austin Wells) who uses an unusual technique when spelling out his words, as described in the song Magic Foot.
Rona Lisa Peretti (Keiryn Young) serves as narrator in the play, introducing the spellers to the audience, while Olive Ostrovsky (Raena Birch) can’t afford the $25 to enter the bee and has parental issues.
Besides some of the adult characters in the show, including comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Ethan Dauncey), who is helping at the bee as part of his court-mandated community service, there’s overachiever Marcy Park (Rhiannon Lutzke), who has self-doubt but whines about an easy word she has been asked to spell, until the big guy upstairs (Lyndon Shykora) appears to set her straight.
“We have played with the script a little to suit our actors,” said Lorge, who is working with student Cole Flick-Belus as codirector.
However, the main theme of pre-teen angst, charm and all-around geekiness of a spelling bee is still the focus of the play.
It’s perfect for the palaestra, otherwise known as high school.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee takes the stage Dec. 9 to 16 (except Sunday night) at 7 p.m. at VSS’s Theatre on the Hill. Tickets are available at the school office and can be reserved by calling 250-545-0701.