The University of North Dakota’s Theater Arts Department has put on Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. The Department’s current production is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, music and lyrics done by William Finn and based on the book by Rachel Sheinkin. This fun and quirky performance will leave you laughing, crying, and clapping by the end of the competition.
This production provides a unique perspective on spelling bees as includes mature content (viewer discretion advised) and integrates three audience members into the cast on stage to participate in the spelling bee. The musical draws inspiration and is based on an improvisational play called C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E. Therefore, the actors utilize improv throughout the show. This allows for new improvisations each night, making each performance a different adventure.
The director, Chelsea Chimilar, noted at the end of the program that, “The Putnam County Spelling Bee is an event eagerly awaited by the young spellers, their parents, and the adult hosts. For these individuals, the Bee is more than just a simple competition.” Even with masks on, the cast truly embodies their character’s young personas with great detail.
The plot of The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee follows both adult and adolescent characters. The adult characters consist of Rona Lisa Peretti, a former champion of the Bee who returns to host. Douglas Panch, the vice principal who is crushing hard on Ms. Peretti while struggling with anger issues, and Mitch Mahoney, who assists with the event for his court-ordered community service. The main competitors in the Bee include Chip Tolentini, Leaf Coneybear, William Barfee (not pronounced barf), Olive Ostrovsky, Marcy Park, and Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre. Each of the children has struggles they work through and express on stag – from living in a dysfunctional family to possessing a magic foot that is temperamental to having untimely erections. It becomes apparent that these intelligent children have much to deal with in just an hour and forty minutes.
This show was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, amazing. I was laughing and tearing up at each reference to the awkwardness that growing up can produce. Each provocative dance move and interaction with the crowd made it a memorable experience. The audience was lively, and the music replayed in my head the following day. The guest appearances during the production from the audience and the guest star Jesus Christ himself left us gasping and choking on our juice boxes. Every showing, the theater is transformed into a spelling bee where the stakes are high from the costumes, set design, and props.
You can experience The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee at the Burtness Theatre from March 3rd –5th at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $15 for students with their IDs and $25 for adults. Tickets can be bought in person at the theatre or online at Burtness’s website. The Department’s next show is Unrehearsed Shakespeare, April 21-23, 2022.
Claire Arneson is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]