MRHS Spells Fun With 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater , Monomoy Regional High School

     At long last, Monomoy Regional High School is back with an in-person production, and this one is worth the wait. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a musical comedy that will deliver laughs while setting your toes tapping. Can you spell H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S?
     Two years ago, as if we need to be reminded, the arrival of COVID-19 forced the MRHS performing arts department to halt production of “Les Misérables” just three days before opening night. The following year, the resourceful students and staff put together a virtual “Alice in Wonderland,” pulling out all the stops to create the illusion of a cohesive production despite being in separate locations scattered across miles to avoid the threat of virus transmission. Director Rachel Barnes said after two years of uncertainty, she wasn't sure how many people would actually come back to produce a play this year.
     “The fact that 'Les Mis' got tanked was a great disappointment to everybody,” Barnes said. “When we planned to finally do something onstage we had certain parameters while selecting the play. Since I had no idea how many kids would show up, we wanted something with flexible casting. And second of all, though no less important, we were looking for something that would promote joy. Everything has been so heavy and dark for so long. This has to be a light and fun show.”
     Barnes found the perfect solution to both her criteria in “Spelling Bee.” In fact, she said, everyone involved has been laughing throughout entire rehearsals.
     “One of our biggest challenges has been keeping a straight face,” Barnes said. “What a pleasure it's been! I've been waiting so long for kids to laugh, and now that masks are off, to actually see them smile and laugh is a real pleasure. People have come in and laughed until they cried during rehearsals.”
     “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” takes place during a spelling bee in the fictional Putnam Valley Middle School filled with quirky characters, both among the students and among the adults. With music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss, the show has won several awards, including the Tony for Best Book.
Rosemarie Richard, described by Barnes as “a powerhouse,” leads the pit band.
     “Oh my gosh. There's nothing she can't do,” Barnes said. “She really knows how to work with children to illicit the very best from them. She's a remarkable woman, and I'm so fortunate to be able to work with her.”
     Barnes also praised former drama director Deb Donovan, whose retirement was meant to coincide with the production of “Les Mis,” which was canceled due to COVID, leaving her with no sense of closure.
     “Deb is our tech director for this show,” Barnes said. “It's a great opportunity to finish up with the kids and with a great show, which looks great thanks to her.”
     As in years past, the students have had the great fortune to receive support and guidance from guest artist Robi Hager, a Broadway actor, singer and composer who held two weeks of workshops on specifics of scene work and character work during their school days.
     “It's wonderful to have such enthusiastic community support,” Barnes said.
     The MRHS production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Rachel Barnes, opens Wednesday, March 16 featuring the work of choreographer Suzette Hutchinson, dramaturg Charlie Clute, accompanist Eric Williams, bassist John Pells and guest artist Robi Hager. In the cast are Nick Blute, Ayah Wilson, Alexis Arruda, Asa St. Aubin, Emory Hines, Phoebe Gill, Orla Delaney, Luke Sanders, Ciara Farris, Tyler Gula, Leyla Holmes, Chloe Eldredge and Payton MacRoberts. The pit band, led by Rosemarie Richard, is made up of Simon McBride, Isaiah Woodland, Mackenzie Bowers, Lilian Gould, Jordan MacRoberts, Amalia Marjollet, Talia Perez, Angelica Velasquez and Edrian Wright. The crew, led by Deb Donovan, is made up of Charlotte Mahoney, Charlotte Skinner, Bridget Brochu, Skye Forrester, Dahlia Viprino, Tim Gray and Emersin Adamsons.

“The 25
th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
At Monomoy Regional High School
Wednesday, March 16 through Saturday, March 19 at 7 p.m.
Matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Tickets at door, $10 general admission, $5 for student