A group of students sweat and agonize hilariously through "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," presented by Pittsburg High School theater department at 7 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday in the PHS auditorium.
PHS theater students recently presented "13 Reasons Why," a beautifully performed play examining teen suicide. This show is a total change from that.
"It’s nice to have something silly and nonsensical," said Greg Shaw, PHS theater teacher and play director. "But there are some poignant moments in here as well."
Some of the students in "Spelling Bee" were also in "13 Reasons Why," but said that going right from one show to another really wasn’t a huge challenge for them.
"We’ve been working on this show all year during our musical theater class," said Betty Noonoo, who plays the role of Vicki Mahoney in the show.
The play is set entirely during the spelling bee, with students seated on bleachers. Presiding over the bee are pronouncer Vice Principal Panch, played by Mark Weaver, and Rona Peretti, played by Hanna Wade, who won the third annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The young spellers are a mixed lot. "We are a bit bizarre," says speller William Barfee, played by Kagen White, and he’s totally right. He’s also one of the most bizarre, spelling out words by means of his "magic foot."
Then there’s Leaf Coneybear, a sweet and simple boy who doesn’t think he’s very smart but somehow seems to be able to spell the names of South American rodents. He’s played by Will Jewett.
Abbi Epperson is Logan SchwarzandGrubeniere, who has been groomed for the spelling bee by her two fathers, played by Ty Muse and Derek Brumbaugh. One is loving and accepting, the other assures the poor girl that "God hates losers."
Also under a lot of pressure to win is Marcy Park, played by Makayla Bockover. It takes a personal visit from Jesus, played here by Jason McDonald, to let her know that no, God doesn’t hate people who lose spelling bees.
Olive Ostrovsky, played by Lauren Sullivan, learned to spell by reading and re-reading a dictionary, which is her only real friend. Her mother, played by Ashley Hall, is on a spiritual quest to India, while her father, played by Kenton Piatt, is always at work and spares little time for his daughter.
As students drop out of the bee, they are comforted by Vicki Mahoney, who’s in an orange prison suit and working out her community service as a comfort counselor at the bee. She gives each loser a hug and a juice box.
Other cast members include Jared Wilde as speller Chip Tolentino, who gets derailed by puberty; Erin Simons, who plays Leaf’s mom and also choreographed the show; Skyler Jones as Brooke; and spellers Ashley Burch, Sarah Colyer, Sarah Jewett, Shawna Rush, Marti Sinclair and Maddie Weibert.
Student musicians include Daniel Munguia, cellist, and Clara Wehrman, who plays synthesizer. Susan Laushman is at the keyboard and serves as musical director. Technical director is Denise Williams.
Several audience members will also be brought on stage every night to join the spellers, which means the regular cast members have to adapt and respond to them.
"In other shows we haven’t had to ad lib like this," Ashley Hall said. "I think it gives you more confidence."
But it can also be challenging to deal with, Wade added.
"A lot of the pressure from that goes on Mark Weaver as Vice Principal Panch," she said. "He has to keep it all under control."
The show is controlled chaos at times, but fun, for the audience and cast.
"This is the sixth show I’ve done at PHS and it’s the funnest ," Lauren Sullivan said. "It’s been a blast."