The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a long-running Broadway show and popular community theater draw around the country, made its way to the Loomis Chaffee Performing Arts stage this spring, with six shows April 19–24 on an outdoor stage next to Chaffee Hall.
The Loomis cast, music, choreography, lighting, and audience participation were nothing short of spectacular, and the hilarious and, at times, shocking musical was just the feel-good performance the school community needed.
Sweeping its audience into the world of a middle school spelling bee in Putnam County, The Bee follows six main spellers through the course of the competition. As the play’s audience learns background information on each character, they grow to understand and love them all. At its heart, the show is about accepting people as they are despite differences and dealing with the pressure of living up to expectations from others and their own drive to find success.
With the Norris Ely Orchard Theater under renovation and COVID-19 precautions severely limiting indoor audiences, the Performing Arts Department had to get creative and figure out how to best present the production to the community.
A stage was erected behind Chaffee Hall and equipped with lighting and sound production, and a live instrument section was set up to the side of the stage. Socially-distanced audience seating was arranged in front of the stage, and the open-air venue could not have been better.
“There is something magical about theater under the stars,” said Director David McCamish, a member of the Performing Arts Department faculty, who noted that The Bee was Loomis Chaffee’s first outdoor musical.
“In this time of COVID is great to have so many talented young storytellers putting their energy into sharing this amazing musical,” he said. “We are able to do live theater for our Loomis community when many theaters are closed due to COVID.”
Two casts of student actors alternated performances, and each night four audience members were called up on stage to be participants in the spelling bee. Behind the scenes, a six-student tech crew helped run the show, supported by faculty members and other theater professionals who contributed their expertise and skill to the production’s success. Three student musicians also played in the pit orchestra alongside professional musicians.
“Our student technicians and musicians … poured their energy into helping pull off a remarkable piece of theater,” David said.
In the opening scene, the audience meets the whole cast of characters. Spelling bee host Rona Lisa Perretti (played by sophomore Jade Silverstein and senior Lana Breheney) is a former spelling bee champion who is now the top Realtor in Putnam County. She is the glue that holds the competition together. Boy Scout Chip Tolentino (freshman Brigham Cooper and junior Aidan Cooper) is the defending spelling bee champion and later has an unfortunate run-in with puberty, leading to one of the most memorable numbers of the night. Marcy Parks (freshman Jessica Luo and senior Eva Millay Evans) speaks six languages and is an athlete and an overachiever, but she is tired of the stress of winning and takes matters in her own hands. Leaf Coneybear (junior Vanessa Magid and senior John Howley) is a loveable, memorable, free spirit who comes from a family of hippies and does not feel smart but goes into a trance when spelling. Logainne Schwartzandgrubennier (played by senior Rosalie Lyons in both casts) is introduced as the youngest and most politically aware speller. She yearns to win to make her two fathers proud, but her efforts include a shady moment of sabotage against one of the other contestants. Olive Ostrovsky (junior Kate Shymkiv and senior Talia Mayo) is a newcomer whose parents are not in attendance and whose entrance fee had not been submitted. A sweet girl whose father seems to be constantly working and whose mother is in an ashram in India, Olive’s best friend is an old dictionary. William/Williamina Barfée (junior Ben Radmore and senior Kassie Rivera) was a finalist in the previous year’s spelling bee, but an allergic reaction got in the way of victory. Back for vindication, Barfée has a magic foot that assists with spelling and has its own hilarious number in the musical.
Also present is Meg/Mitch Mahoney (junior Grace Thompson and senior Baihan “Tom” Zhang), the “Official Comfort Counselor.” An ex-convict performing community service at the bee, Mahoney escorts losing students off the spelling bee stage and gives them juice boxes. And the spelling bee judge is Vice Principal Douglas/Paula Panch (sophomore Arthur Beaugeard and senior Elizabeth Pecoraro), who returns to the bee after five years’ absence due to an “incident” at the 20th annual competition.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, one of the 100 longest-running Broadway shows, features music and lyrics by William Finn, and the book was by Rachel Sheinkin. The show was based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original improvisational play created by Rebecca Feldman.
View a gallery of photographs from the production.
Connect to the playbill for the show.