By Stacey Muncie
TERRE HAUTE —
Six quirky characters combat adolescent angst in their quest to be the last speller standing in the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The musical comedy, winner of two Tony Awards, is being presented by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Drama Club at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 1-3 in Hatfield Hall Theater.
The pressure is on when this group of six spellers go head-to-head for the prestigious county-wide championship. Each student has his or her own set of issues, from speech impediments to overbearing parents, with one speller relying on his “magic foot” to see him through and another going into a trance before each turn.
Although the musical is set in a middle school, explains Bunny Nash, director of Student Productions, patrons should consider the content to be rated PG-13. Laced with a few profanities and some adult humor, this spelling bee isn’t suitable for younger audiences.
In a unique twist, cast members will be joined on stage by four audience members who’ve been invited to participate as if they, too, were vying for the championship, resulting in a hilarious interactive component.
Senior biology major Alex Cochrane plays Chip Tolentino, Boy Scout, crowd favorite and previous bee champion who has returned to defend his title. This is the 10th drama club production for Cochrane, a Bloomfield native who has also acted at the Shawnee Theater.
“I think I’ve done every show since I got here,” Cochrane says.
Asked how he got the role of Chip, the pre-med student relates, “I sang a Negro spiritual from the show ‘Hairspray’ and it was very high, a wailing thing and they were like ‘Oh we know where we’re going to put you.’”
Nash thought that Cochrane would be perfect for the part of Chip, whose angst-ridden lament after a humiliating puberty-assisted early elimination bemoans his subsequent embarrassment and bitterness at being relegated to selling bake-sale snacks.
“This is the first time I’ve had to portray someone 12 or 13 years old,” Cochrane explains. “I really like trying to portray a younger character” as opposed to the adult characters he’s most often played.
Newcomer Samantha Staszak of San Diego, Calif., plays the role of stereotypical Asian overachiever Marcy Park. Pushed to succeed by her parents, Marcy is a recent transfer to the area who placed ninth in last year’s National Spelling Bee.
“I like to think that deep down inside she wants to be accepted by people,” the freshman says of her character, “but, she thinks being accepted means she has to be the best.”
Staszak, a software engineering and computer science major, may not be a national spelling champion like Marcy, but her vocal talent earned her a place on the National High School Honor Choir.
“Last February I sang in Carnegie Hall. It was the most incredible thing I’ve done in my life,” she says. Staszak adds that she and other choir members were so overwhelmed by the experience that during their last song, “We all just started crying.”
Now at Rose-Hulman, she is enjoying her first drama club production.
“I like that it has a lot of quirkiness. All the characters are really different but they’re all kind of brought together by what they’re doing,” she adds. “It’s like a really weird coming-of-age tale for fifth-graders.”
Nash adds that although the characters are quirky, they’re also relatable. “When we did the read through the kids recognized themselves in some of the characters. I recognized all of the personalities of these kids either from when my own kids were growing up, or with Rose-Hulman students … how competitive they can be and how funny that can be.”
What: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
When: runs Oct. 26-27 and Nov. 1-3 at 7:30 p.m.
Where:Hatfield Hall Theater
Tickets: $15 for adults and $10 for students/youth. This production contains adult language and mature themes. An equivalent movie rating would be PG-13. Advance tickets may be purchased by calling the Hatfield Hall ticket desk at (812) 877-8544, weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Specific show information is available at hatfieldhall.com.