LSU Department of Theatre Mainstage Presents Production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” April 25-May 6 at Reilly Theatre
BATON ROUGE – LSU’s Department of Theatre Mainstage will present performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Michael Perlman with musical direction by Richard Baker, April 25-May 6 at the Reilly Theatre, located on Tower Drive.
With a stage production based on the book of the same name by Rachel Sheinkin and conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a one-act musical comedy, with 19 musical numbers, centering on a fictional spelling bee set in Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the bee, which is run by three equally quirky grown-ups. The 2005 Broadway production, directed by James Lapine, earned great reviews and box office success, was nominated for six Tony Awards and won two, including Best Book. Be prepared to laugh uncontrollably! Some of the lucky audience members will be chosen to compete on-stage, spelling “taradiddle,” “slobberknocker,” or even “poppysmic.”
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was developed into a full-length musical from an improvisational play called “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E,” originally performed by New York-based improve comedy troupe, The Farm. The musical retains its improvisational roots with the addition of four actual audience members – and, perhaps, even a few local celebrities – who are encouraged to sign up and participate in the spelling bee before the show. During the 2005 Tony Awards for example, former presidential candidate Al Sharpton competed. These “competitors” are expected to spell actual words throughout the show until they are eliminated, resulting in great moments of unexpected hilarity!
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is played out in real time before the audience, exploring the lives of six overachieving spellers as they battle for the first place title at the local spelling competition. With songs like, “My Friend, the Dictionary,” “I’m Not That Smart” and “Woe is Me,” the show captures the awkwardness, angst, heartache and excitement of growing up.
Director Michael Perlman works frequently with Trinity Repertory Company, the Tony Award-winning theatre in Providence, R.I., associated with Brown University, where he received his MFA in directing.
“I am excited to be coming to Baton Rouge, to direct the LSU Mainstage production of James Lapine and William Finn's hilarious ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’” Perlman said. “Though hilarious and charming, it’s also a musical of outsiders all of a sudden finding themselves on the inside. I can't wait to explore it with the production team and wonderful cast.”
Musical Director Richard Baker is a conductor and musical director for the Baton Rouge Little Theater and the Fine Arts Program Coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Education, and will bring his expertise to LSU’s production.
“Much of the show is in a straight-ahead Broadway vocal style,” Baker said. “There is one gospel number, but I find most of the music in a vaudeville style, meaning that it is used to propel both the characters and the story. The challenge is to always be thoughtful to the story that you are trying to tell; in this case, the genesis of the participants into the adults which they will become. My favorite song, so far, is the ‘I Love You Song.’ There is something special about singing I love you, that when it is done in a heartfelt way will always be very moving. The lyrics of the songs are cleverly written without being trite. To connect with an audience, the songs have to express the range of emotions that the audience has experienced.”
LaDawn Jones, who designed costumes for the production, is a graduating senior at LSU with a concentration in design technology. With one of the concepts of the production being that adult actors are playing children. Jones said she has created a design concept to make this work.
“Making college students appear younger is a challenge to say the least,” she said. “However, my designs will incorporate the styles of middle schoolers, which will help the actor make the characters more child-like. The color pallet is bold colors for the most part, lots of color making it interesting to look at onstage. My desire is to bring humor to the costumes with a modern-day nerd style.”
Actor Ryann Pinkerton, a graduating senior in the LSU Department of Theatre who will play the part of Olive – one of the last two contestants standing in the spelling bee, said she is excited to take part in the production, which will be her last at LSU.
“The first time I ever heard the music from ‘… Spelling Bee,’ I fell in love with Olive because of her innocence,” Pinkerton said. “She is genuinely so happy to be a part of the spelling bee and can't believe that she makes it to the end. I imagine her to be just the sweetest little girl that everyone, kids and adults alike, falls in love with just because she has such a pleasant disposition for a young girl.
“I haven't done a musical since high school and, for that reason, I couldn't be more excited to go back to my roots and get the chance to revisit those skills. ‘… Spelling Bee’ will be my very last show that I will perform at LSU, and I couldn’t think of a better show to end with than one where I get to play my dream role.”
Performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” include 7:30 p.m. performances on April 25, which is a “pay-what-you-can” performance; a preview performance on April 26; the official opening of the production run on April 27 and subsequent performances on April 28 and May 1-5. Matinee performances will be held on Sunday, April 29, and Sunday, April 6, at 2 p.m. each day.
Tickets range from $12 to $18, and can be obtained immediately from the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Box Office by calling 225-578-3527 or visiting www.swinepalace.org. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the following box office locations: the LSU Student Union Theatre; the LSU Music & Dramatic Arts Building on Dalrymple Drive; and the Reilly Theatre. On performance nights, tickets will be on sale at the Reilly Theatre Box Office. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for evening performances.
NOTE: Performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” are suitable for audience members 12 years of age and above, and are not recommended for elementary school-age children.