"Spelling Bee" Spring Musical 2014

Let the Spelling Begin...

We decided once again that the order of shows (plays vs. musicals) this year wouldn't follow the school's traditional approach to season planning. Changing things up has been our goal for the past several years and we felt it helps keep the community guessing (which is essential to a successful  theater company...so it's only natural we start following that rule as well).

Due to the fact that we had chosen (Frankenstein) for the Fall, we opened up the Spring slot in the Little Theater once again for an opportunity to produce a smaller musical. This is always exciting for us, and there are so many smaller musicals that are perfect for a smaller venue. There were several shows we have been looking at over the years, but "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" turned out to be the perfect fit for this season and we had the talent pool to fill the required cast list.

WATCH A Montage video of our show 
by following the link below

The cast in final dress rehearsal working on the end of "Magic Foot"

It was such a pleasure to produce our second
William Finn musical in the WGHS Drama Department.

And it begins...

We love auditions and the excitement it brings to the department. This process began right before the 2013 Winter Break with auditions in the Little Theater. We held singing auditions and had some actors stay to read sides from the script as well. This is a very challenging musical and the score has many musical hurdles for the singers to get over whether it be the difficult lyrics to memorize or the times when the music splits into incredibly hard harmonies. The big question with a Finn score is "Can they sing it?"

The auditions proved successful and we cast the show that afternoon and didn't have to do any call backs. Luckily we had plenty of students come out for the auditions and we invited several people to sit on the casting table and help make the decisions for each cast member. This ensures that that we don't precast the show and that what we see in the audition matters most. We were also lucky to have the wonderful Mrs. Linda Raddick (our musical director) also present to give us her two cents as well...which really helped us know who was musically ready for this score.

With a comedy, we are looking for actors who can make us laugh in the audition...

Auditions for a show like this can be rather easy if you have your music down, but it proves to be a challenge for the students to bring big choices to the audition when it comes to character and comedy.

The characters in this show are kids, they are big personalities, and they're rather specific. We needed actors who could navigate the comedy of this script. The students who came to audition were asked to make us laugh with the sides we chose. Some did and some did not. That was a huge determination for who was offered the roles.

At WGHS we always have several really strong singers come out to our musical auditions. Our choir department trains the singers well. They are usually very strong on their song portion of the audition, but they don't always bring the acting and character to their singing. In the end it makes the actor/singers that have good interp skills really stand out.

This show especially needed strong character choices to be made by the actors and our goal in auditions was to find the students willing to go the distance to bring a bit of those wacky characters to us without too much coaching.

The Cast

 Duncan Kinzie as Chip 
 Emma Lingle as "Schwartzy"
 Erin Stanton as Rona
 Eugene Gardiner as Barfee'
 Hannah Leatherbarrow as Marcy Parks
 Jack Wight as Leaf Coneybear
 Robbie Morefield as Mitch 
 Sarah Addison as Olive
Zach Sullivan as Vice Principal Panch


The rehearsal process for this show was tough to navigate. The cast was very busy in the Spring semester at WGHS and they had a lot of activities they were committed to outside of the show. Several members of the cast were in choirs, some had work and one even got himself cast in another show that opened the week before ours. We also had quite a few seniors...and we know how they are the last semester of their HS career...distracted and ansty for the graduation stage.

Music rehearsals were a lot of fun and there was always hot tea a brewing for the singers 
and our fabulous pianist Mrs. Raddick 

We decided that it would best to really concentrate on the music first and Mrs. Raddick immediate dove into the solos and then we slowly added in the group numbers. This was tough music and required a lot of review. Once we knew the music had been taught and the cast had rehearsal tracks for their songs if they needed them, we moved into the blocking of the show. It wasn't terribly difficult to block since the show stayed in one location and most of the time the cast was seated on stage.

The seniors received roses on stage at the last performance's curtain call. It is a long standing tradition at WGHS Drama to honor the seniors involved in the last show.

The real joy of putting the story together physically came from the characters and what the actors did with the characters they were creating. William Finn wrote a musical about adolescence and the kids in the story all represent different type of pitfalls we encounter as we grow up. It is interesting to look at these characters and notice the way Finn comments on how we compete and how we handle rejection in our competitions in life.

Panch starts a riot on stage at the bee!

The fact that we had high school students playing middle school kids allowed the cast to revisit their past and learn from what they had done in their lives that mirrored some of the choices these characters also make. We see them accept defeat with grace and we watch some of them lose poorly. We also get to watch teamwork, encouragement and love.

The spellers smiling for their portrait!

It was tough getting the cast to lose their high school sentiment and to shift into their younger selves to find the story. They struggled with the innocence of the characters and the fact they had to become less mature for the story to remain true to the intention of the writer. Finn wrote flaws int these characters and the rehearsal process gave us just enough time (as always) for the actors to lose themselves in the childishness we needed for the truths to be told and the characters to become believable for the audience. We always get there, it is never easy, but with a cast like this...we were never worried. It just took focus and lots of rehearsal.

Hannah Leatherbarrow gets the gold star for never missing a single rehearsal.

The rest of the cast gave the rehearsal schedule a true run for it's money. The production staff has never had to rearrange rehearsal plans on a daily basis more than we had with this show. It was a true learning experience for all.

          The Crew

Todd Schaefer……………………Producer/Director
Linda Raddick………….Music Director
Liv Kohring………………..Asst. Dir./Tech Asst.
Kate Arendes………………..Asst.Dir.
Liz Goldstrap……………………..Movement Asst.
Ryan Tumminello…………..Light Design/Op
Maddy Toskin……………..Sound Op
3rd and 6th Hour Tech……………………….Set Work
Claire Kercher……………………..Hair/Make-up Design
Lauren Newsome/Mel Umbaugh………………….House Mgr(s)

Mr. Schaefer and Mrs. Romanowski………………..Costumes

The Band
Linda Raddick……………………………………..Piano
Clancey Novell……………………………………Drums
Devin Allen (WGHS Student)……………………Cello
Becky Padgett…………………………………….Reeds

Barfee's and his magic foot!


With musicals it can be hard for the tech classes to do a read through of the script, but we did read the scenes and listen to all of the songs from the Broadway Cast recording in class over the course of a week. After a bit of discussion on the themes of the show and all of the necessary physical requirements of the show, we started drawing what we saw in our heads. Then we began to put it on its feet.

The physical needs of the show are pretty simple. The structure of the musical keeps the attention on the spellers and the story and the set is remains a supportive piece and should help create the atmosphere of a real spelling bee. We made some decisions about where we thought it should take place. The script leaves the location open for interp. It must be set in Putnam County, but it doesn't say where in Putnam.

We looked at a lot of other production's photos and how other people have produced the show to get some reference points and inspiration. We noticed that a lot of people designed a realistic set that made it seem like the show was set in a gymnasium. We decided that was too literal and we instead made an unique setting that suggested elements of a school but left the actual location to the imagination of the audience. It worked well for the fantasy and less realistic elements of the show.

PR Materials
Mr. Schaefer's 3rd and 6th Hr Technical Theater Classes generate all of the PR materials used for the shows. The class votes and the cast/crew votes. 

The winning design is the one that goes to print. The designer also receives a free t-shirt.  

                               Alex Wieselman…….T-shirt Design

The T-shirt Design Project is an assignment in tech theater class. We walk through a process that combines hand-drawn fonts created by the students with symbols from the show. We also include the author(s) and the producer (the WG Drama Dept.) The students create black ink stencil designs to be camera ready for silk- screening. They go through thumbnail sketches, to rough drafts of two designs, to one final rendering in sharpie.



Caleb Howell, Claire Gilb, and Sam Holden 
Poster Designs that were printed for the hallways!

Posters are designed in both sections of Technical Theater classes as well. We spent time drawing by hand and then the designers have the opportunity to use Publisher and Photoshop and the internet to create there vision into an attractive poster design. The posters are all given one printing and again the classes and the cast/crew of the show vote on the designs and pick their top 4 (to be printed and hung around the school and community)


The costumes were pretty simple, but had to tell the story of each of the kids. We also had to make the actors playing adults look older. This was a lot of fun. The set was kept to mostly earth tones it allowed us to chose more expressive colors for the actors. They really popped in the end and the cartoonish feel of the show came through. In the end we want the audience to believe they are watching a spelling bee in Putnam County, but we also want to push the design to help with the comedy aspect of the story.

The choice in color and texture helped with that push. Most of the costumes were purchased at Salvation Army, Goodwill, or pulled from our stock. We borrowed a few things for Chip and we bought the catholic school girl uniform new.

Chip was a boy scout, but he didn't earn his badge for good sportsmanship this time! The badges that Duncan had on were authentic. So was the hat and scarf.

                                         Even Jesus (as Hipster) even made an appearance

We also had fun in the accessories. The little things that we added to the costumes helped add fun and interest to the characters and who they were.  

 Some of the actors played multiple roles in the show and had small costume pieces they added for effect and to help the audience follow the flashbacks in the story. Pictured (left) are Erin, Sarah and Robbie in the "I Love You Song". Then Robbie, Emma and Jack as Loggaine and her two dads.

We got to work with some hair extensions and applying facial hair. Robbie was transformed into Mitch with lots of little details in his costume and make-up design. In the end he really looked like a different person. Some people in the audience even were tricked and didn't recognize him.
We also gave Zach a mustache for Panch. 
The glasses were vintage sunglasses from our stock.

We found several pairs of glasses to use for many of the characters. 
                                                         They added a lot of personality. 
Erin loved her pick ones for Rona:)

Each character stood out as an individual and also represented their function in the plot. "Schwartzy" was dressed red, white and blue. She's a true patriot.

We didn't have to come up with too many props for the show. There were some, but nothing that caused us any worry. The spellers all wore numbers and the announcers (Rona and Panch) had lots of notes and clipboards on their desk. As the show got closer to opening night their desk got very organized.


Erin (Rona) and Zach (Panch) running the bee with a firm hand!

We had helmets, scarves that we danced with...

and a box of snacks that were thrown into the audience during Duncan's big number!


The set also had some items that were made because they were referenced by a character. These were plot points as well and it allowed us to do some cool signage for the stage.

                          Alex Wieselman designed the amazing optometrist sign for us!

The tech classes and some of our after school painters worked these out right before we opened the show. They really added some color to the walls as well 
and they made for some good sight gags when the spotlight picked them up. 

This was a great show for the department! We had so much fun putting it together and even with all of the hiccups along the way, it still turned out to be one of the best musicals we have had on campus. The cast was amazing in their roles. The band was awesome and really added a lot to the music. We even had a student cello player in the band. 

Barfee' wins it all and we like it that way!

Special Thanks
Debbie Genovese for the T-Shirts, Maureen Cashel for being our copying GODDESS, The ECHO for their services/stories about the department and this show, The WGHS Admin for being there for us, Mrs. Raddick for going on this ride with us, to Mrs. Wight for the pictures, to Jessica Pierce for the headshots, to Mr. Schaefer for arranging the Sunday rehearsal lunches, Ryan Tumminello for learning the new light board, Liv for being a dedicated helper, Kate for stepping in on spotlight, Maddy Toskin for stepping in on sound, to Alex Wieselman for the optometrist sign, and to the cast members who came in to base-paint the set.  

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