Spelling’s Not That Easy

The theater department is back with a hilarious musical

The+Spellers+of+Spelling+Bee%3A+left+to+right%3A+front+row+-+Katelyn+Woods+as+Olive+Ostrovsky%2C+Olivia+Thomas+as+Logainne+Schwartzandgrubenierre%2C+David+Kale+as+William+Barfee%2C+back+row+-+Paola+Severo+as+Marcy+Park%2C+Riley+Mulcahy+as+Chip+Tolentino%2C+Jackson+Shemwell+as+Leaf+Coneybear

@mattlth

The Spellers of Spelling Bee: left to right: front row – Katelyn Woods as Olive Ostrovsky, Olivia Thomas as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, David Kale as William Barfee, back row – Paola Severo as Marcy Park, Riley Mulcahy as Chip Tolentino, Jackson Shemwell as Leaf Coneybear

Welcome to Putnam County! For this year’s school musical, the Juan Diego Theater Department is putting on the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a hilarious show full of singing, spelling, and a whole lot of laughs. Even though it is not very well known outside of the theater community, this show is so much fun for the audience and actors alike.

David Kale as William Barfee (@mattlth)

The premise may be simple, just a bunch of slightly strange kids competing in a spelling bee, but all the surprises along the way really make this a show worth seeing. This musical has also been an unconventional one for JD for several reasons. First, of course, is that it is difficult to produce theater during the time of the pandemic. “Since this is my last musical at JD,” says senior David Kale, who plays one of the spellers, William Barfee, “I really want to enjoy every moment of it, especially with it being a COVID show. We all know what it feels like to get shut down, so I want to make sure everyday is a good and fun day that I put my best work into,” Kale states.

 

The other challenge that has been thrown at the actors during this show is that the three female lead spellers are double cast, which means that there are two actors playing each of these roles. It is often a technique used in professional productions that perform every night, so it was unusual for it to be in a high school production, especially with just 3 of the roles being double cast rather than the full production.

Caitlin Raven as Olive Ostrovsky (@mattlth)

“We have really good female actors and I didn’t want to limit opportunities,” says director Joe Crnich. “We all wanted to do this show and it’s really important to me that everyone has opportunities to succeed and shine. I thought I could provide some amazing character opportunities to 6 very talented actresses,” Crnich continues. Even though much of the cast was hesitant at first, it became a good addition to the show. “The double casting has been fine for me,” says sophomore Catelin Raven, who is double cast in the role of Olive Ostrovsky. “I love my double Katelyn Woods. She is so sweet and super talented so it’s really easy to work with her. We have come up with a pretty good system to make sure we both get equal rehearsal time and we get along great,” Raven says. “For me, having a double is easier and more fun!” says senior Katelyn Woods, Raven’s double as Olive.

Katelyn Woods as Olive Ostrovsky (@mattlth)

I get to take a break every now and then to do homework or just chill, and we switch off based on who feels like going. Plus, watching the character that I have makes it a thousand times easier to memorize things like lines and blocking. It’s been so much fun and I’m so lucky to be sharing a character with her,” Woods continues. But the double casting doesn’t just affect those in the specific roles, it also affects the other characters who have to get used to doing different things depending on the cast. “Sometimes it has been hard because I want to be able to perform with everybody at the same time, but I don’t get that chance in this show where I usually would,” says sophomore Jackson Shemwell, who plays speller Leaf Coneybear. Junior Grace Sims, playing host of the Bee, Rona Lisa Peretti, adds, “The double casting has affected the energy of each performance for the better. Each cast brings something new and unique and it makes every rehearsal so much fun.”

 

Even though the double casting has added its challenges, this production was a good one to try double casting because of how heavily character based this show is. The main characters are a group of wacky 10-13 year old kids with a fair amount of issues and a love for spelling. These characters could so easily be turned into caricatures and lose the more heartfelt moments of growth and vulnerability throughout the show, but the actors have treated and developed them as real people, and it truly makes the show.

Jackson Shemwell as Leaf Coneybear (@mattlth)

“Oh man, I LOVE, LOVE, my character,” says Shemwell. “This is going to sound very confusing, but my favorite part of my character (Leaf Coneybear) is his stupidity and constant confusion. He is such a fun character to act with because there are so many different moves and noises I can make that will fit him perfectly, even if I tripped and fell on accident, it would most likely seem like it was planned out based on the dumbfounded-ness of my character,” Shemwell continues. “Sometimes it is hard to show the audience you are involved with the plot but still look confused and as if you are not paying attention at all. I had to find a good balance of Leaf’s confusion but still him paying attention to the spelling and not being completely separated from reality,” Shemwell finishes.

The “adults” and hosts of the Spelling Bee: from left to right – Carolyn Vazquez as Michelle “Mitch” Mahoney, Anthony Tibolla as Doug Panch, Grace Sims as Rona Lisa Peretti (@mattlth)

“The most challenging thing about the characters in this musical is that it’s a comedy starring these 12 year old kids who have terrible relationships with their parents and we have to make them real yet funny at the same time,” says Kale. “Specifically for Barfee, he’s a funny character but he’s also mean and a bully with a lot of walls around him. The hard part is making that bully likeable and showing his development into a friend.”

 

So come see this hilarious spelling bee! The Juice Box Cast, featuring Olivia Thomas, Katelyn Woods, and Paola Severo, will be performing March 4th, 6th, and 8th, and the Cookies Cast, featuring Katie Moyle, Catelin Raven, and Audrey Tita-Munoz, will be performing March 5th, 7th, and 9th. “This show went by SO FAST!!” concludes Shemwell. “This is one of the most comedic musicals I have ever seen, and some of the lines still make me laugh even though I’ve heard them 100 times by now.”