A spelling bee is the subject of this year’s Waupaca Community Theatre summer production.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 26-27; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 28; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 1-3, at the Waupaca High School Performing Arts Center.
“It’s a new show. I like to be part of bringing new works to audiences, whether it’s music or theater,” said John Kelley, who is directing the show.
Kelley, who also directed the WCT musicals “Into The Woods”, “Little Women” and “Sweeney Todd,” said “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was on Broadway about six years ago.
He saw it in Chicago about four years ago.
“What I liked about it is so many shows perform to the audience,” Kelley said. “This one performs with the audience.”
In fact, each performance will incorporate audience members into the spelling bee.
Those interested in volunteering for a chance to be on stage should put their name in before the show in the Commons, he said.
“Some of them will be in the show almost the first half,” Kelley said.
In addition to enjoying the show when he saw it, Kelley said he also selected it for this year’s production, because “I thought we had the cast for it here.”
With 13 cast members, it is a much smaller cast than last year’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” and also of “Sweeney Todd,” which was performed here two years ago.
Kelley said both of those shows were wonderful.
“I thought something small is something that would go over well here,” he said.
Kelley describes “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” as being funny in many different ways.
The characters are funny. The script is funny, and he said audience members will watch it and see it happening it here today.
It is character driven.
“The show has been compared a lot to ‘A Chorus Line,’ which takes place on a bare stage and is all about the characters and their lives,” Kelley said. “It is probably one of my favorite shows for that reason.”
With basically one set, the story is the emphasis in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The setting is Putnam County, an agrarian area about two counties north of New York City, he said.
“I chose this in October and have been putting it together for the most part since the beginning of the year,” Kelley said. “The cast is great. Pretty much everybody up on stage had leads in other shows or college experience.”
Mitch Mahoney is portraying Sam McLellan, who was recently released from prison and is getting rid of some community service hours by being a comfort counselor to the students.
“At first, he has no feelings, but then he wants to comfort them as he sees their sadness,” Kelley said of the character.
Portraying Chip Tolentino is Robin Zabler.
“Chip is the winner from the previous year,” Kelley said. “He expects everything to come easily but is starting to feel the effects of being an adolescent.”
Leaf Coneybear, being portrayed by Luke Harger, is “homeschooled with a lot of brothers and sisters. And he has ADD and is only there because he is the second alternate. Everything is facinating to him. He gets distracted very easily.”
Emma Kelley portrays Marcy Parks.
From a parochial school, Parks is “the overachiever who is good at everything. She is kind of bored with the whole process,” Kelley said of the character his daughter is in the musical.
The youngest of the spellers is the character Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre, who is being portrayed by Katie Anderson.
“She feels pressure all the time to win and is trying to please her two dads,” Kelley said. “She has a lisp but is very politically astute.”
Her fathers, Dan Schwarz and Carl Grubenierre, are being portrayed by Dakotah Revai and Matt Bonikowske, respectively.
Brayden Kendziora is playing the part of Olive Ostrovsky.
Her mother, portrayed by Carmen Riebel, left and went to India to “try to find herself. Dad (played by Jerry Hurst) is working and doesn’t feel it is important enough for him to be there. She (Olive) thinks he’s going to be there and saves him a seat, but he doesn’t show up. She is probably the friendliest of all the kids,” Kelley said.
The other speller is William Barfee, a bully who is always picked on by others.
Zach Kubasta is portraying that character, who Kelley describes as someone who “tries to appear strong but is very insecure as a person.”
He also said Barfee has a special technique of using his foot to spell the words before he speaks them.
The cast also includes Lori Bauer as Rona Lisa Perretti and Gene Badgley as Vice Principal Douglas Panch. They are the moderators of the spelling bee.
“Lori’s character was the champion of the third annual bee. She’s a Realtor in the area. This is kind of the Super Bowl of Super Bowls for her,” Kelley said. “She lives for this – seeing kids slowly eliminated until there is a winner.”
The character Badgley is portraying does not want to be there, as he was asked at the last minute to take someone else’s place.
“Through the contest, he gets into it and really enjoys it,” Kelley said.
The members of the cast are from Waupaca, Weyauwega, Amherst and Wautoma.
“So it truly is a community production,” Kelley said.
Rehearsals began in early June in preparation for opening night.
Tickets for all shows are $12, with the price the same in advance and at the door. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce. For those purchasing tickets at the door, the ticket booth will open one hour prior to the performance.
Audience members will notice the band on the stage, instead of in the orchestra pit.
“The reason we did that is with the show, there needs to be a connection with the audience,” Kelley said. “We can use the front of the stage and keep the cast and audience connected.”
The audience will be the actual spelling bee audience.
Conducting the band and serving as the vocal music director is Holly Saunders, who directed last year’s WCT production.
“She’s been working with all the singers throughout the whole process,” Kelley said. “She helped me with the auditions and will be one of the two keyboard players.”
The other keyboard player will be Wanda Eikenbary, who has been playing at rehearsals all summer.
“She’s indispensable. She puts in a lot of time. Without her, we couldn’t do the show,” Kelley said.
Saunders played keyboards for Viterbo College’s production of the show.
She describes the musical as a “fun, contemporary look at children and adults functioning in society.”
Kelley said, “I don’t want people to think this is a sit and watch a spelling bee. The music is great. It’s about as funny of a spelling bee as you can get, There’s a lot of emotional points in the show. You really get to know the characters and feel for them when they lose. As you get to know more about them, they come out of their shells. You start to feel for them and hope they succeed.”