While the storyline, written by Rachel Scheinkin, may first seem, like its title implies, just a spelling bee, the characters within the story develop complex personalities often exposed through the music, written by William Finn.
The storyline follows six diverse participants through the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence as well as this particular competition. Their experience teaches them that winning is not everything, and losing is not as devastating as it first may seem.
Although no one role is more important than another, the six main roles include the previous year’s winner, Chip Tarantino, portrayed by sophomore Austin Aldrich; overachieving and earnest Marcy Park, depicted by freshman Mia Pak; good-natured but quirky Leaf Coneybear, personified by sophomore Kent Burns; sweet, always-honest Logaine Shwartzand-Grubenier, portrayed by sophomore Justine Kitteringham; egotistical brainac William Barfée, personified by senior Jack Yeatman; and infectiously likable, but hopelessly insecure Olive Ostrovsky, depicted by junior Claire Moorer.
“It has been really entertaining to delve into the characters and understand how they feel,” Kitteringham says. “You really have to portray their emotions while spelling. We are connected to these people.”
By most standards, the play is quite small with just six competitors, a vice principal, a past winner, a comfort counselor and the occasional appearance of a parent. Yet, according to Jacobs, the play is more musically complicated than any other musical production they have ever done.
“It is not just a simple musical, as I thought it would be,” Jacobs says. “These characters are real people with real issues.”
One of the main motivations for choosing the Tony-Award-winning musical, according to Jacobs, is simply that it is a fun show with characters that are real. However, another reason is due to the low-cost of the production. After over-spending on last-year’s musical “Hello Dolly,” starring Lana Richards, the choice was to either choose a low-cost production or shut down the drama program completely.
While the show is mostly comprised of current drama students, Jacobs notes that there are several actors in the show not taking his class. Jacobs commends his actors for taking on a lot of work, including some of their own choreography, although dance teacher Kristine Tarozzi has choreographed three dances.
“I don’t think I could be more pleased with the cast. They are extremely hard-working and very experienced,” Jacobs explains. “We have a lot of people who do community theatre as well as working in this theatre.”
Music teacher Brian Handley and chorus teacher Tom Lehmkuhl are also involved in the production, and both are described by Jacobs as a “blessing.”
Rehearsals for the play have been taking place since January, enabling the actors to properly connect with their characters as well as to devote a large amount of time to practicing their lines and songs.
“It is one of the most ensemble based shows that I have ever been in, and we all have to be extremely focused and work together,” Moorer reveals.
The show stays true to the original production, apart from one song deemed inappropriate for a high school production. Like in the original Broadway musical, four contestants from the audience are chosen to participate in the spelling bee throughout the first act. As four different people are chosen each time, the show is never quite the same.
The musical-comedy will be performing its final two shows on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the CHS Center for the Performing Arts. The cost is $10 for students and seniors, and $12 for adults.