‘Spelling Bee’ features student talent

By Julia Corso
Correspondent

DiRienzo plays the Bee’s moderator (Photos courtesy of TCNJ Musical Theatre).

The Don Evans Black Box Theater thrived with a funny, passionate show for four days straight, as TCNJ Musical Theatre performed its fall musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” 

Beginning on Nov. 13 and ending on Saturday, Nov. 16, the show overcame an unfortunate delay due to the campus power outage, and the cast and crew rallied to put on a hilarious and well-executed show. One cast member, junior biology secondary education major Grace Postiglione, who played the character Logainne, was even able to poke fun at the situation during an improvised moment onstage.

The show, originally performed on Broadway in 2005, didn’t actually start out as a musical — it was first seen as an improv play. After less than two years, it was workshopped and developed into the full-fledged musical, which TMT performed and kept true to many of its fun improv roots.

Although “Spelling Bee” is about a local spelling bee, as many would guess, but there is more to the story than meets the eye. The lively musical features a group of competitive spellers with a handful of adults trying to keep everything under control. However, things don’t always go as planned, as showcased in the lively number “Pandemonium.”

The spellers brings their own quirks, which they showcase throughout their songs. One character, William Barfee, played by senior history secondary education major Casey O’Neil, spells out his words with a “magic foot.” 

Another character, Leaf Coneybear, played by junior physics major Dylan Corbett, goes into a trance whenever he has to spell. The whole cast provided excellent portrayals of the various characters and brought the story to life through their acting, singing and choreography.

“Spelling Bee” is undoubtedly a comedy, but it has a big heart and doesn’t shy away from getting deep. Despite being kids, the characters grapple with some big issues, such as absent parents and anxiety. The actors brought real dimension in conveying both comedy and more serious moments.

Freshman vocal music education major Delaney Bogusz, who played Olive Ostrovsky, demonstrated her range in her character’s quirky, sweet song, “My Friend the Dictionary,” as well as the deeper “I Love You Song.”

The show didn’t just include the talented cast of students onstage. One key part involved the audience’s participation. Attendants were encouraged to sign up ahead of time to be selected to join the cast onstage as a guest speller. One guest speller on Thursday night’s show was the College’s president, Kathryn Foster.

While onstage, the audience members interacted with the cast as they sat on the bleachers and were called up to spell words, before getting stumped with one that was too hard to spell and returning to their seats.

Audience members received the show well, including senior music major Lana Holgado. 

“I thought it was a really fun show and really well put together,” she said. “I had friends in it, so it was great to see the finished product of all of their hard work.”

Mary DiRienzo, a junior elementary education major with a music concentration, played Rona Lisa Peretti in the musical, the moderator and veteran of the Bee.

“My experience was like no other show experience I’ve ever had. Being in a cast of 10 amazing performers, we really had to lean on each other because of the improv and funny bits we created together,” DiRienzo said. “But a lot of those funny moments were rooted in the friendships we have found in each other.”

A veteran herself of many TMT productions, DiRienzo has cherished the friendships she has made over the years with new and old friends. 

“The cast really supported each other and allowed ourselves to grow as each week passed,” DiRienzo said. “Hearing that the audiences loved the cast chemistry meant that we did justice to the show, and we created the joy that is ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’”

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