‘Super quirky’ characters compete in ‘Spelling Bee’

The competition is tough in the musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The students are prepared and ready for the challenge. Six enthusiastic students will compete in a spelling bee for a chance to win scholarship money and a spot in the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C.

The action, however, will take place on the Fannin Performance Hall stage when the Richland Drama Department presents the musical from 7:30 to 9 p.m., Feb. 6-9 with no intermission. The preview takes place Feb. 5 at the same time.

The musical was conceived by Rebecca Feldman and is based on the book by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn. It originated as a skit performed by a New York improv group and developed into a full-length show.

Gregory Lush, Richland drama professor and director, classifies “Spelling Bee” as “100 percent musical-comedy.” The musical was selected last semester with rehearsals starting in the fall semester and continuing into the spring semester.

Andres Camacho, left, Ben Stegmair and Jimmy Jensen during rehearsal.

Andres Camacho, left, Ben Stegmair and Jimmy Jensen during rehearsal.

Lush said the musical is both “fun and funny and that all six of the students tend to be unique.” The cast includes a total of nine Richland students. Seven are theater students, and two are music students. The characters have some kind of peculiarity or quirk. They are: Chip (Ben Stegmair), the spelling champion of Putman County; Schwartzy (Bethany Long), who has two fathers and a lisp; Leaf (Sheldon Vielma), who is home schooled and has attention deficit disorder; Olive (Catherine Christenson), an only child who loves words and reads the dictionary; Barfee (Andres Camacho) plagued by health problems and spells words on the floor with his feet; and Marcy (Christina Hollie), an over achiever who plays the piano, dances, does martial arts and twirls her baton.

“One of the most important things here is that we didn’t make fun of these kids, but that we kind of celebrated their unique qualities,” Lush said. “I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

What would a spelling bee be without some adults to oversee it?

Kim Dominguez plays Rona Lisa Peretti, a local realtor and the third annual Putnam County spelling champion. Alex Istrate is Douglas Panch, vice principal, a man who’s frustrated with his life because he can’t get a promotion. James Jensen plays Mitch Mahoney, a comfort counselor who worries more about the kids who lose.

The musical is similar to a PG-13 movie rating because there’s a “very little bit of swearing and one kind of a mature situation that arises, but it’s good, wholesome fun,” Lush said. “It’s nothing too crazy. I think people will love it. There are several people from the audience used as volunteer spellers.”

Lush describes the characters as “super quirky.”

“They kind of fill all of those different stereotypes. I think it celebrates them, their stories and their unique personalities. And that’s what most of the songs are about,” Lush said.

“There’s the big group numbers that tell the story of the show, but then almost every kid has a breakout number where they kind of explain how they got there,” he said. “The show exists in the present, but then there’s a bunch of flashbacks to earlier times that kind of brought them to where they are.”

Lush said the students in the musical are around 12; not high school or college aged. “Spelling Bee” is not for children, but for those 13 and up.

Which of these exciting characters will win the spelling bee? Come to the show and find out. The performance is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required.