Theater department brings music and spelling to Sherwood

Kate Robinette

Each year one show in Harper Joy’s season is either a musical or an opera. This year, Garret Professor of Dramatic Art Nancy Simon will be directing a musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

The Tony-winning musical depicts a quirky group of students competing in the titular spelling bee. Senior Monica Finney plays one of the students, Olive Ostrovsky, who has a penchant for switching the orders of words.

“I see her as kind of a space cadet … but in a cute and quirky way. It’s fun to play that,” said Finney. “The play’s just so random, all about these kids who are all quirky and have issues, so it’s very entertaining.”

Finney saw a production of the show in Seattle last summer, and enjoyed it so much she wanted to participate in Whitman’s production.

Senior Chris Reid is looking forward to this show marking an exciting culmination to the year. Reid plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch of Lake Hemingway Junior High, who because of an incident in the past was almost not scheduled to help with the bee, but made it in and is eager to redeem himself.

Chris Reid '11. Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell

“As a graduating senior I wanted to get involved with as much theatre work as possible before leaving a program that’s done so much for me … [Because of the] simple fact that our closing night is the night before commencement it’s easy to see this show as a countdown to graduating,” said Reid.

Performances are on two non-consecutive weekends, a schedule used in previous years to give students a free finals week but still have shows during commencement weekend when families and friends are in town.

Junior Charlie O’Rourke, who plays a comfort counselor and gives juice boxes to the children who are eliminated (as a requirement for his parole), feels the performance schedule is a good thing not only because actors will be less stressed after finals, but also so senior theatre majors can have one last fun performance project.

Left: Henry Nolan '13.  Right: Charlie O'Rourke '12.  Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell
Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell

“Usually there aren’t thesis requirements [surrounding the spring musical,] seniors don’t really do their thesis as performing in the musical … it’s sort of just a fun way to cut loose at the end of the year,” he said.

O’Rourke is especially enthusiastic about the show’s music, which is also one of the things he is most apprehensive about.

“Honestly I do love the music a lot, but it’s kind of hard. It’s been challenging, for me at least, to get the music down. There are some high notes I’m still not hitting perfectly,” he said.

Another sound challenge the actors and crew are worried about is that the musical will be held in George Ball Court rather than at Harper Joy Theater, which is in the process of renovation.

According to the actors, the show’s script calls for a school gymnasium, so the choice of the George Ball Court makes sense. However, with echoes and limited technical resources, they worry about acoustics and whether the audience will be able to understand them.

“One of the perks of using the gym is the ability of doing a relatively low-tech show … low-tech shows are easy because there are fewer things that can go wrong during the performances,” said the stage manager sophomore Alison Thoma.

While the lack of an intercom system makes communication difficult, rehearsals at the gym have been going well according to the cast.

“I think it’s funny that people are able to watch us rehearse from upstairs as they pass by… I just wonder what’s going through their heads as they see these drama kids jumping around and singing in their gym,” said Reid.

The cast. Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell

Additionally, the setting allows for better audience participation, which the cast anticipates with excitement.

“The few times we’ve had people to fill [the audience participants’] role it’s been really fun. Also the words and their definitions are pretty funny, it’ll be fun to see how they react to it,” said Finney.

Shows run at George Ball Court in Sherwood Athletic Center from Thursday through Saturday, May 5-7 and May 19-21 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on May 8. Tickets are available at the Harper Joy Box Office.

Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell
Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell
Henry Nolan '13. Photo Credit: Brandon Fennell