And these characters are ones you should watch.
This weekend, Urbana High School is putting on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and I have to admit, I had a great time watching it. The show focuses on just 9 main characters: 3 adults and 6 youth, all misfits and each of them played very well by a crew of committed and talented teenagers.
While most of these characters could be qualified as broad cariacatures, every single one of them has special qualities that require intense focus, dedication to the role, and a lack of inhibition that most adults could not even consider. Yet all eight teens on stage completely immersed his- or herself into a demanding part without even the slightest waver. First off, most of them have to dress like children, although many of them are not well-dressed*. Several have speech impediments or patterns that aren’t natural, or require youthful mannerisms. One even has to simulate demon possession… or subconsciously being in a metal band that spells? Still not clear on that one. A couple of them have to sit in a chair, in character, and say little, for nearly two hours. It’s a challenge that would be beyond many seasoned actors, and these students pulled it off unflinchingly.
Of course, most of the talent at the Bee were recognizable from other productions, the most familiar to me being this past summer’s UPDYT production of The Pajama Game. J’Lyn Cockrell caught my eye in her previous role, and as Mitch Mahoney in Spelling Bee, she got her chance to truly show off her powerful voice before the end of Act I. Alora Rent, just a sophomore, gave a timid and moving performance as Olive. Although I missed her titular role in Annie last summer, her beautiful rendition of “The I Love You Song” made it clear why she sould have such large roles at a young age. Senior Kitty Schwartz, as Rona Lisa Perretti, escorts the audience through the entire experience with a strong and confident voice that deserves to be heard, as it has been through several past UHS productions such as last spring’s Working. Each member of the cast performed admirably, and you are sure to be justified in choosing any of them as your favorite.
The play itself is yes, a comedy, featuring humorous (and distracting) moments that kept me laughing. But it is also a tender work tackling dreams, expectations, pressure, self-worth, magical thinking, and most importantly, finding a place to fit in. As director Tim Broeker says in his program notes, discovering our passions can lead us to our community where we are accepted, sometimes for the very thing that people find it easiest to tease us about. It’s clear that these actors have found their passion in performance, and their community in each other. As part of their larger community, I’d encourage you to spend a dime and a couple hours taking in this worthwhile production.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be performed at 7:00 pm November 11 – 14 and at 2:30 pm on Sunday November 15. All performances will be in the Urbana High School Cobb Auditorium, 1002 S. Race Street. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults, and are available at the box office, which opens 30 minutes prior to each performance. Although most of the actors depict children on stage, the musical is not a children’s show, as it contains some adult innuendo.
*Costumer Barb Hughes did an excellent job of making the outfits; it’s just that not every character can or will dress well, according to the script.