A 200 dollar saving bond and bragging rights are the stakes in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Hoof 'n’ Horn’s latest musical production. The show follows the competition of the spelling bee, as well as details on each of the spellers' lives. The show begins Jan. 23 and runs through Feb. 2 in the Sheafer Lab Theater in the Bryan Center.
“What makes this show special is the opportunity for improvisation and ad lib,” Andrew Jacobs, sophomore director of this winter’s production, said. “Taylor [Walls] and Austin [Ruiz], who play our two adult characters, get to come up with fun facts for each speller that are ripe with little jokes and Duke references that should make the audience laugh.”
It is Jacobs's first time directing, but he has been a part of four Hoof ’n' Horn productions previously. Hoof 'n' Horn typically organizes three musical productions each year—for fall, winter and spring—and this year, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is sandwiched between “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Parade.” The show was chosen for its endearing message and smaller cast, which includes Putnam County’s top realtor, a vice principal with a knack for odd sentences, a comfort counselor on parole and six quirky kids from various backgrounds.
“Working on Putnam has honestly been one of my favorite theater experiences since I started performing six years ago,” Taylor Walls, junior and actress for Rona in the show, said. “With only nine of us in the cast, we all became fast friends, making for a fun-filled and collaborative rehearsal process.”
The six spellers include Olive Ostrovsky (Corinne Wallace), a sweet girl whose mother is pulling an "Eat, Pray, Love" in India; William Barfee (Max Duncan), a nerdy boy with a magic foot; Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre (Sophia Santore), a smart girl with overbearing gay fathers; Marcy Park (Katie Beachem), a ceaseless winner from the all-girls school, Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows; Leaf Coneybear (James Hamilton), a quirky child of hippies who makes his own clothes; and Chip Tolentino (Kirby Wilson), a boy scout who has just begun to hit puberty.
For the spelling bee, the stage is decorated like a standard gymnasium, complete with the familiar bleachers, a basketball hoop and a “Putnam Valley Lady Piranhas Synchronized Swimming” championship poster.
One of the unique components of the show is that audience members are invited up on stage to compete alongside the characters in the spelling bee. The audience members also have to spell words, ranging from “Mexican” to “gremial.” The spellers in the cast experience similar pressure. One speller’s fate hangs on their ability to spell “chinchilla,” while another speller suffers from an unfortunate display of sexual arousal on stage in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The show earns its laughs, but with noted observations of each character, the show also manages to be touching and even poignant at times.
“The show might seem childish on the surface, but its meaning and lessons are relevant for the Duke community,” said Jacobs. “We can’t always be the best at everything and winning should not always be the end goal. It can be a nice reminder in case we lose sight of this during the semester.”
“I hope that Duke audiences will leave this show with a tummy ache from laughing too much,” said Walls, “And the acceptance that winning isn’t always what’s most important.”
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" opens Jan. 23 and runs through Feb. 2 in the Sheafer Lab Theater in the Bryan Center. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $8 for students, available online or at the box office. For more information, visit the Hoof 'n' Horn website.