The Black Box theater in P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the newest theatre production, brings the Black Box theater to life

Circling+the+main+platform%2C+the+cast+of+%E2%80%9CThe+Bee%E2%80%9D+performs+%E2%80%9CPandemonium%2C%E2%80%9D+accompanied+by+audience+volunteers%2C+for+the+crowd+of+theatre+students+during+the+Nov.+10+preview.+This+was+their+first+show+with+an+audience+and+served+as+a+chance+to+improve+any+last+components+before+the+official+show+opening.+

Lexi Critchett

Circling the main platform, the cast of “The Bee” performs “Pandemonium,” accompanied by audience volunteers, for the crowd of theatre students during the Nov. 10 preview. This was their first show with an audience and served as a chance to improve any last components before the official show opening.

Daisy Li, Writer

When a musical centers around quirky 12-year-old spelling prodigies, chaos comes with the territory — and it includes a lot of spinning. The onstage bleachers and white board spun while the actors twirled and danced, oddly in sync with the blinking LED lights, as they sang the number “Pandemonium” in organized disarray.

The Black Box theater featured the Fall 2021 musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” from Nov. 12 to 14. The show follows six eccentric middle school spelling bee participants and their journeys towards failure, success, and ultimately, self-reconciliation, all delivered through humorous flashbacks and actions. The adaptation by the theatre department, featuring a cast of nine, was directed by theatre teacher Kristina Leljedal.

“It’s one of my favorite shows in all of musical theatre because it allows for such hilarious moments, but it’s also pretty heartwarming at the same time,” Mrs. Leljedal said. “I originally saw the first cast that was on Broadway in New York at the Circle in the Square theater. Oh man, I saw it in 2005 … We have gotten so much further in life from 2005 to 2021, but I think we did a good job of making it feel current for right now.”

During one of many after-school rehearsals, theatre teacher and director Kristina Leljedal critiques theatre senior Emma Brown’s delivery of her opening monologue. In preparation for their four shows, the cast and crew had to attend weeks of practices to perfect each component of the performance. (Lexi Critchett)

“The Bee” is not your typical musical. There is virtually no barrier between the audience and the performers.

“We’ll take four audience members, and we use them as spellers in the show,” theatre junior and cast member Brandi Quigley said. “And they kind of drive the plot. If they get out, we sing a song, if they don’t get out, we have to mold the show. It’s kind of an improv show within the written musical.”

Theatre students got an exclusive preview of the show Wednesday evening before the official Friday opening allowing them to cheer on their peers in the cast. However, cast members like theatre junior Carsten Kjaerulff noticed how the improv component had a different feel with the full audience compared to the preview with theatre students “who are rowdy by nature.”

“It’s amazing because you never know,” Kjaerulff said in reflection of opening night. “You never know what they’re gonna do. You have songs where you’re dragging them around on stage, and you have no idea if they’re going to listen to your instructions. So luckily, we had some good rule followers today, and one who didn’t, and it was hilarious. They just make the show better, the unknown element of it.”

Staring at theatre junior Brandi Quigley (Olive Ostrovsky), theatre junior Carsten Kjaerulff (Leaf Coneybear) pines over the love of his character. Kjaerulff’s character was intended to be goofy and embody the lighthearted nature of the show. (Lexi Critchett)

“The Bee” is the second theatre production at Dreyfoos this year and marks the return of musicals to the Black Box theater after mostly virtual performances last year.

“This show will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the first show back from COVID that I got to direct,” Mrs. Leljedal said. “There’s something so special about theatre, being in the room, and being able to act with people (while) not having to unmute and to figure out how to fit it in a box. It makes me feel emotional thinking about how we’re back on the stage and get to perform without masks.”

Theatre junior Chloe Pugh was selected to be one of the audience contestants during the theatre preview, though she misspelled her word and was therefore escorted offstage by theatre senior Ryan Lamontagne, who played Mitch Mahoney. Each time one of the audience volunteers was wrong and out of the fictitious spelling bee, they were serenaded by the cast while Lamontagne walked them out. (Lexi Critchett)

The week before the first showing was “Tech Week.” Building 7 buzzed with theatre students who stayed long after dark to ensure that the lights, sound, and music were thoroughly prepared before opening night.

“We’ve put three months into this show,” theatre junior and Spelling Bee stage manager Devyn Humble said. “I’ve dedicated over 130 hours to this show. All the actors (have) had all their time dedicated here, but also at home, as well working on memorizing lines. It’s definitely been a big time investment for all of us. But it’s been so much fun. I’ve loved this experience, so it’s definitely worth it.”

As stage manager, Humble acts as the liaison between the actors and crew members and calls the cues. Coming into the official opening night of “The Bee,” the cast and crew felt a jumble of emotions.

“It’s very nerve wracking because I feel like I (should) be doing more. I keep second guessing myself,” Humble said. “I’m so excited for tonight’s opening because Wednesday was (the theatre department’s) preview, and it went really well. I’ve only heard good things, so it’s made me really excited for tonight.”

 

Before every performance, the entire cast and crew come together in the green room for their traditional activities that get them excited and ready for the show. This serves as a celebration of all of the hard work and dedication they each put into the show as it finally pays off with a live audience. (Lexi Critchett)

Within 10 days of ticket sales opening, the show was sold out. Just a week before the opening, 20 additional tickets were added to each showing to compensate for rising demand to see the much-anticipated performance.

“I was really surprised because I wasn’t sure how people would respond to the live show,” Quigley said. “We’ve been out for a while (due to COVID,) so I wasn’t sure if people were going to want to go and see us in person. So, I was super excited and just surprised by the turnout.”

“The Bee” received interspersed applause and overflowing laughter all throughout its 90 minute runtime.

“I’m most excited for two things,” theatre sophomore and cast member Austin Bailly said the day of the opening. “One, I’m excited to make everyone laugh. I love making people laugh … and also, I can’t wait for us to perform. I can’t wait for all of us to be back on stage, do what we love, and just present this hilarious story to everyone.”

Theatre sophomore Austin Bailly slams down a tray of candy in frustration after failing the bee due to distracting circumstances. His character, Chip Tolentino, later returns to throw candy into the audience as a vendor working for the Putnam County School District. (Lexi Critchett)
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  • Playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch, theatre senior Daniel Reiter is responsible for ringing the bell to signify a misspelled word and therefore the end of someone’s time in the bee. If someone messed up the spelling of their word, they were escorted out by former convict Mitch Mahoney played by theatre senior Ryan Lamontagne.

  • One of the most important components of the show is the chaos infiltrating each part of it. During “Pandemonium,” actors run around on stage to create as much of it as they can including throwing around the microphone as theatre junior Karma Carr does.

  • Pointing to a member of the audience, theatre sophomore Austin Bailly makes heart signs to convey his love for Leaf Coneybear’s sister, Marigold.

  • During their solo “Magic Foot,” theatre junior Karma Carr, who plays the uptight know-it-all William Barfee, sings about the talent of their character’s foot in regards to deciphering the spelling of a word.

  • Theatre senior Lily Counihan, who plays Rona Lisa Peretti, stares as Reiter reprimands a contestant for not spelling their word in the given timeframe.

  • As the final two contestants left in the bee, theatre juniors Karma Carr and Brandi Quigley (William Barfee and Olive Ostrovsky) fight over the first place trophy. Shortly thereafter, they ultimately recognize their love for each other and are forced to choose between throwing the competition so the other can win or claiming victory for themself.

  • Holding the first place trophy in one hand, Carr takes a check from Reiter as the award for winning the Spelling Bee though the internal conflicts of their character create a moment of uncertainty and guilt for winning.

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