Producing a full-length musical is difficult under the best circumstances. Producing one while fulltime students with virtually no help from faculty would seem, for most, to be an impossible proposition. However, that is just what producers Jessica Daly ’18, Hannah Lundberg ’18 and Nolan Boggess ’19 have done this semester with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which debuts today in Sebring-Lewis.
“It’s been a really long process, and, at times, it’s been really difficult and stressful — but it’s also been really rewarding and a whole lot of fun,” Daly wrote in an email to the S&B.
The show starts out innocently enough — with fun songs and lines about the trials and triumphs of competing in a middle school spelling bee. However, as the show progresses, it gets more and more absurd, raunchy and hilarious. The longer the viewer watches, the more they realize that “Spelling Bee” is packed with innuendo extending even into the outright crude.
“The whole concept is that it’s adults playing kids, or young adults playing kids. It’s supposed to be funny. I’ve seen a production of this were they had children playing children on stage, and it just didn’t work,” said Boggess, who also stars in the show as William Barfee.
“Spelling Bee” also includes a great deal of audience participation, with patrons being invited onstage to compete in the spelling bee. This was quite fun and is highly recommended. Moreover, the cast employs a great deal of improvisation around the audience participation, and the show is best when the cast is coming up with jokes off the cuff.
Still, Daly made clear that only enthusiastic audience members will be brought on stage.
“We will ask people whether they want to volunteer to spell words onstage in the lobby before each show, so people shouldn’t be nervous about being pulled up onstage unless they want to,” wrote Daly. “Grinnellians are smart, so I suspect they’ll spell well!”
The show is not all laughs though. Each character has to deal with immense pressure to excel — a phenomenon that Grinnell students will no doubt be able to relate to.
“I do think this musical has something to tell us about the pressure we put on ourselves. This is particularly relevant to college students during the weekend before finals, I think! All of the spellers struggle with the pressure to succeed, self-doubt and feeling like they don’t fit in,” wrote Daly.
As is to be expected from a completely student run project, the show is not without its hitches. At the last minute, Daly and the creative team made the call to only use recorded tracks for accompaniment instead of an orchestra. This leads to some awkward transitions into the musical numbers.
However, these minor details do not detract from a fun, witty and completely student-run production.
The impressiveness of “Spelling Bee” being entirely student run came to a head for Boggess at the beginning of the show’s tech week.
“It was right before our Monday run …and I just said, ‘look around right now, everyone in this room is a student. There is not one person of faculty. There was Sooji [Son ’18] and Lucid [Thomas ’19] doing lights, there was Julia [Dursztman ’19] and Maggie [Dambro ’19] our assistant stage managers, and our directors. It was amazing looking around the room and seeing that every single person was a student, that every part of this production has been student-made, student-run. It gave me chills, and I started to tear up right before the run.”
Theatre lovers and supporters can see the all student produced “Spelling Bee” this Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m..