It’s hard to imagine that a spelling bee can be filled with a conga line, a dancing literate foot and a foggy Jesus. Yet, that’s just what the Cabrini Theatre did with their production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The musical, which is running through March 28, is bound to attract everyone in some way. Its story has humor, love, struggle, friendship and victory, which are all set during a spelling bee held in a school’s gymnasium.
Dr. Thomas Stretton Jr., the show’s director, took the play, which was previously performed on Broadway, and brought it to Cabrini’s stage.
“The show is very funny but has heart as well. I’d like the audience to leave understanding and being more sympathetic with some realities of the human condition,” Stretton said.
Characters in the play range from perfectionists to doubters and lovers to fighters that lead to a melting pot of personalities. However, each person has a story behind them about the pressures they deal with in order to compete in the bee.
One contestant in the spelling bee is Marcy, who is a young girl who knows she is the best. Her story tells of an important challenge that young people face; mustering enough courage to form their own identity. Here, “controlling the lives of young people and compelling them to ‘perfection’ is wrong,” Stretton said.
Other issues touched on include being raised to think you can’t be defeated can actually be destructive, or that the loss of a parent is a sad reality we all must face.
“I realize how much work goes into a production like this and I was very impressed,” Nick Bonanni, junior communication major, said.
“The students in the theater whom you saw on the stage–and those you didn’t see behind the scenes–are incredibly hard working, talented, but most importantly, kind. I think they do extraordinary work and they are extraordinary people,” Stretton said.
The show also was able to incorporate the audience into the story by having volunteers sign up before the show to spell a word during the spelling bee. After an audience member spelled a word wrong, the cast would break out into an elaborate goodbye song, all in good fun of course. As much as the show is about the performance, it’s also about the audience.
“We all need to have nights when we come together with others and laugh and have a good time and experience some joy–as many in the audience seemed to,” Stretton said.
With all the commotion going on during the show, some may forget what “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is all about.
“Underneath all of life’s challenges and opportunities, it’s important for all of us to recognize our common humanity and our individuality,” Stretton said.