Clark Musical Theatre’s annual fall performance is getting a makeover this year. Be prepared for hula hoops, jump ropes, juice boxes, and a night of hysterical moments.
“It’s geared toward Clark students. It’s very goofy,” said Allison Schenkler, director and producer. “In recent years CMT has done a lot of more traditional, older plays. This one is new and hip. We wanted to break away.”
The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee originally opened on Broadway in 2005 and won two out of six Tony Award nominations including Best Book.
Schenkler who is also CMT’s president is looking forward to changing opinions both about musicals and about their group on campus. “CMT used to have a bad reputation of not doing much and doing a poor job at what it did do. If people come, they’ll be wowed,” she said.
“It’ll make them rethink musicals at Clark,” said Arron F. Bresley, the show’s musical director.
CMT’s fall performance is usually on the small side, and The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is no different. Nine cast members make up the show, and it’s a short performance. Be that as it may, characters transform and the show remains dynamic.
“I really enjoy the psychological changes the characters go through,” said Ariela Sturgis, who plays Rona Lisa Perretti, the fanatical organizer of the bee. “All of the characters have very interesting backgrounds, family lives, and quirks.” Sure enough, one constantly wears a cape, one is victim to all of puberty’s awkward on-stage moments, and one has two fathers. “It’s a play that emphasizes diversity,” Sturgis said.
These assorted characters make the performance well suited at Clark. “There are lots of Clarkie jokes,” said Erin Ross playing the character Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere. “Since I first saw it, I thought it would be perfect for Clark. It’s the Clark show… second to Reefer Madness.”
Bresley also agreed that the show belongs on a college campus. “It’s really a metaphor for freshman year, I think. You ask yourself, ‘Who’s going to last?’ It’s all very nerve-wracking,” he said.
Despite the accentuated characters and seemingly lighthearted storyline, the musical is both relatable and perplexing. “To a kid, a spelling bee can be the biggest event of there lives,” Schenkler said. “There’s a lot in it. It seems lighthearted, but it’s deep.”
“It’s also broader, about society,” Sturgis added.
One of the unique aspects of the play is live audience participation. Traditionally, members of the audience are selected prior to the show and are invited to join onstage, alongside the cast. “We pick four audience members each show, and a lot of it is improv.,” Bresley said.
Word announcer, Jeremy Foster, who plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, is good at keeping it interesting, and the cast has to be ready to adapt. New words are chosen each night, and audience participation keeps the show different each night. “The show becomes exactly what we want to make it,” Ross said.
The play was chosen in April. The production staff was assigned, and auditions began in early September. “For students to produce an entire musical is a challenge,” Schenkler said. “Our advisor is a bit inactive, and there’s not a lot of support from the school. But in the end, we know we’re putting together a good piece of work.”
The play was originally conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn. It was also a book by Rachel Sheinkin with additional material by Jay Reiss.
CMT will be showing the play in Atwood Hall November 11th, 12th, and 13th at 7:00 pm and November 14th at 2:00 pm. Admission is free.