Theatre department puts on a spelling bee

Micah Landers and Murfreesboro Freshman Alexandra Gray perform a flashback scene from the upcoming play “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, during rehearsals. Bria Granville/HERALD

Madison Martin

Winner of two Tony Awards and known for its peculiar characters and witty dialogue, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” has officially come to WKU.

Directed by David Young, department head of theatre & dance, the comedic musical documents the spellers’ tween angst derived from the competition, as well as their home lives.

The six spellers compete and sing between their turns, as the audience identifies with the drama.

“Even though the characters are little kids, it’s not really meant for little kids,” Young said. “It’s meant for adults who can recall the going through all the anxiety of being that age.”

The musical has a small cast with just 12 student actors, half of them being freshmen.

“They’re really holding their own,” Nashville senior Caleb Pless said. “It’s been fun to work with some new people who I haven’t worked with yet.”

In the musical, Pless plays the bitter vice principal and proctor of the competition.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee freshman Alexandra Gray said she was nervous about being one of the youngest members of the cast, but said the upperclassmen were very welcoming and reminded her that she had an important role to play.

 “As soon as I step into Gordon Wilson Hall, I matter, because everybody matters,” she said. “And the entire cast made sure you know that.”

 Gray plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, one of the students in the spelling bee.

The cast and production team have been working on the musical since mid-September, clocking in around 18 hours of rehearsal a week.

“Even outside of rehearsals… you’re still running your lines, so that when you do get to rehearsal, you don’t bring down the pace of the scenes,” Gray said. “I’ve never had to work this hard, and I love it. It’s fantastic.” 

The musical presents some special challenges to the cast as well, since there is a section of audience participation and improvisation inherent to the production.

Four members of the audience are pulled up to be spellers themselves.

“Since you don’t know if they’re going to able to spell the words that they’ve been given, the show can go into a lot of different directions,” Young said.

Pless said that the changing nightly audience also adds an element of unpredictability. 

“You can’t be fully prepared for what’s going to happen. You just have to take it as it comes,” Pless said. “It’ll be hard…not to break character, because you want to laugh at everyone else, because of what just happened.” 

One of the four audience members will also be a “celebrity guest,” such as talk show hosts from local radio stations and President Gary Ransdell, who are slated to make an appearance during the six days of performances. 

“You go into it without knowing what to expect, I think, and I think that’s part of what makes it so unique, is the fact that it is actually so much more entertaining than it would appear,” Eric Mattingly,

Lexington senior and production stage manager, said.

 Gray said the production team for “Spelling Bee” has allowed the actors creative freedom with their respective roles. 

“Our entire production team…kinda just let you do things. Experiment a bit, if it doesn’t work, they’ll tell you. Try something else, tweak it this way, don’t do that. But there’s never, ‘Do this only,’”

Gray said. “You get to be an artist, instead of just a puppet.”

 As a director, Young has fun giving suggestions to the actors and just letting them roll with it. 

“If you cast it right and you get the right people, then all you have to do is sit back and find ways to let them do their thing,” Young said. “Directing is about unifying everybody’s vision a little bit, so we’re all on the same page, and then motivating them to give their best.”

The musical will run Nov. 6 through Nov. 11 at Russell Miller Theatre. Show times are at 8 p.m. every night, except for a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students.