Musical celebrates hopes foibles of young spellers

Everyone remembers the emotions of being in a spelling bee at some point in their schooling. Those memories of laughter, tension and competitiveness abound as the Department of Theatre and Film kicks off the 2015-16 theater season with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at 8 p.m. tonight (Oct. 22).

“We are excited to bring this family-friendly show to the stage at BGSU,” said director Dr. Michael Ellison, theater and film. “This musical celebrates the hopes, dreams and foibles of students who aspire to travel to Washington, D.C., for the national finals, as they make us smile, laugh and even tear up, remembering our own idiosyncrasies and aspirations.”

An eclectic group of sixth-graders arrives at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, each eager to win for very different reasons. Sweet and shy Olive (Taylor Martin) brings only her best friend (the dictionary) with her to the bee; bold and hyperallergic speller William Barfee (Braeden Tuttle) uses his “magic foot” to propel him to greatness; former champion Chip (Justin Roth) is struggling with his burgeoning puberty; easily distracted Leaf (Justin Rawlings) is unconvinced that he’s smart enough to be a challenger; overachiever Marcy (Heather Hill) is disappointed by her consistent success; and politically aware Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Madi Zavitz) only wants to impress her gay dads. The show also features theatre faculty Dr. Geoff Stevenson in the role of Douglas Panch.

The musical comedy is based on “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E,” an original improvisational play created by Rebecca Feldman about a middle school spelling bee. The Broadway hit features flashbacks and insights revealing personal details about each of the spellers in this musical that explores the idea that winning isn’t everything.

In hilarious, touching and catchy songs, each speller reveals his/her hopes, struggles and passions as they make their way through the competition. With an engaging, tuneful score by William Finn and sweet, funny dialogue by Rachel Sheinkin, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” causes audiences to fall in love, both with the show itself and its “perspicacious,” “jocular,” and “effervescent” spellers.

“This production honors the third- to eighth-grade students ages 9-15 who compete each year in the National Spelling Bee,” Ellison said. “In 2015-2016, more than 11 million students will participate.”

Established in 1925, the National Spelling Bee has its headquarters here in Ohio – in Cincinnati. In 2015, 285 spellers attended the finals in Washington, D.C., where for the second year in a row, yet only the fifth time in its illustrious history, the Bee had co-champions. “The national champion wins prizes and cash totaling $38,600,” said Ellison. “So, the stakes are high!”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opens at 8 p.m. tonight (Oct. 22). Additional performances are at 8 p.m. on Oct. 23, 24, 29, 30, and 31, as well as 2 p.m. on Oct. 24, 25 and 31 in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre at the Wolfe Center for the Arts. Seats are $15 for adults and $5 for students and children in advance. All tickets are $20 the day of the performance. To purchase tickets, visit bgsu.edu/arts or call the box office at 419-372-8171.