‘Putnam Spelling Bee’ comes to Lewis stage
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media April 13, 2012 3:18PM
‘25th Annual Putnam
County Spelling Bee’
♦ April 20-29
♦ Philip Lynch Theatre at Lewis University, 1 University Parkway, Romeoville
♦ Tickets, $2-$12
♦ (815) 836-5500
Updated: April 20, 2012 10:51AM
The Lewis University Drama Department presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” for two weekends in April.
The show, a fan favorite, is presented at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays and 4 p.m. April 28 at the Philip Lynch Theatre at Lewis University.
Directed by Keith White, chairman and director of the theater department, “Spelling Bee” is about six youngsters in the throes of puberty who won their local bees and are now competing at the county level. The whole thing is overseen by grown-ups who are in a state of arrested development themselves.
“Spelling Bee” has music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin. It opened on Broadway in 2005, and won two Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actor.
White selected the show last year, although it’s long been on his radar.
“It’s such an audience-pleaser. It’s good for the students, creating the characters, because the characters are strong characters,” he said. “Each one of them has their own song, and within their own individual song they have their own problems in life.
“They’re all what you would call nerds. None of them fit in at school, but here at the spelling bee they fit in. They are with students who are like them. One is an overachiever, one has parents making them achieve, one kid is your basic science nerd, one has parents who aren’t there and just don’t care; one has attention deficit disorder.”
The show is known for having four audience members volunteer to join the competition and become part of the show itself.
“That’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “So every show is very different because there’s four new spellers every night from the audience.”
The participants are scouted from the patrons entering the lobby. They can’t have seen the show before, or be friends with anyone in the cast, they can’t be actors and they naturally have to agree to do it.
“We give them some direction, too, but mostly the characters onstage move them around and get them where they need to be,” he said. “The only thing they really need to do is spell.”
He believes the play is so enduring because of its heart, he said.
“We have a thing in America about rooting for the underdog, and they’re all underdogs,” he said. “All of them. Obviously only one can win. They way the show is written, all of them are kind of winners in the end. It’s a lot of fun.”
His cast is outstanding, he said. Right from the initial auditions, competition was stiff.
“I’ve never seen kids prepare for an audition as much as I have for this show,” he said. “The stakes are high because of that. The students who have been cast are really working.”
The show is about an hour and a half long.
The songs focus on an individual, with exception of the introduction song and a song called “Pandemonium,” where the kids go crazy from the tension.
The kids are just as much outcasts as the adults, he said.
“There are three adults in the show, and they’re just as much characters as the kids,” he said. “There’s one called the Comfort Counselor, and he’s there to help the kids off stage. He’s actually there doing community service hours. There’s the vice principal who gives out the words … and he has own problems. The host of the evening is named Rona, and she’s a real estate agent who won the third Putnam County Spelling Bee, and it’s her life. She comes back and hosts it every year.”
People should expect to have a very enjoyable time, he said.
“You care about the characters. There are not a lot of heavy moments. Most of it is just a lot of fun,” he said. “There are moments where you pull back and see the feelings of the kids, but it ends up being an upper. It really is just a joy.”
The play is rated PG-13, he said. The 4 p.m. April 28 show includes a benefit for Joliet’s Regional CARE Association. There will be a silent auction, raffles and dessert buffet. Tickets cost $35.
“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” stars Carli Wheeler and Mike Sansone of Joliet, Stephanie Lipinski of Oak Forest, Erika Young and Matthew Carlson of Lockport, Christopher Selefski of Plainfield, Adam Smetana of Racine, Wis., Jackie Staszak of Braidwood, and Nick Martinez of Crystal Lake.