Could you use “crepuscule” in a sentence? Would you be able to spell “syzygy” off the top of your head? For stellar spellers and spell check abusers alike, the spelling bee is coming back to school in a big way this fall.
On Wednesday, the Ring Theatre premiered the Tony award-winning musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” under the direction of Broadway veteran and Theater Arts faculty member Greg Brown. The quirky musical comedy centers around the titular middle school spelling bee and its equally unique competitors.
The play revolves around six students, each with their unique personality, who compete for the coveted slot as winner of the competition.
“He’s this eccentric twelve-year-old kid; he’s very energetic,” said Brian Perrault, a junior playing speller Leaf Coneybear. “There’s nothing about him that he holds back…so that was an aspect of this production that I really appreciated.”
Brown, who has directed and played over a thousand productions of “Putnam” with several different casts on Broadway, in Chicago and on tour, described his experience with the student cast as “unreal.”
“We have the most amazing students here, both in the BFA program and also the students who auditioned from outside the BFA program,” he said. “One of our leads is an engineering major and here he is, starring in a musical, and doing such a brilliant job.”
He described the process of tailoring the script to fit the university’s audience as a “fun, intellectual challenge” for the cast.
“Having cast this show a number of different times, I know that this show works best when you fill it with really smart, funny people, because it’s not just about reading lines really well, it’s about being really smart collaborators,” said Brown. “One of the definitive aspects of ‘Putnam’ is its seamless mix of both scripted and improvised elements.”
Despite the comedic overtones, Brown also emphasizes that the characters still face very real struggles.
“A lot of comedy is born out of tragedy and struggle, and I think that this cast does a great job of balancing those two things,” he said.
Rachel Bonet, a sophomore playing young speller Olive Ostrovsky, described how her character remained competitive despite challenges at home.
“Her parents are not supportive of her at all, her dad never shows up to anything and her mom is in India,” she said. “Luckily, my dad was always very supportive, but it was fun diving into that character and interacting with others through her.”
Brown feels optimistic about the public reception of “Putnam.”
“I think students will love the show,” he said. “Nobody feels all that cool when they’re in their teenage years, and that’s such a relatable struggle that these weird bunch of misfits go through.”
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will run through Oct. 4. at the Ring Theater. The theater will offer free admission Tuesday at the Totally Tuesday performance to students with a Cane Card. All other showtimes charge $10 admission for students.