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My Favorite Moment of the Bee--The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Review

By Abby Paterson--Eagle Staff Writer

In the days leading up to spring break, the Franklin County Theatre Department put on its spring musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". Despite the musical earning 6 Tonys in its first year on Broadway, many students at FCHS, including myself, had never heard of it before the musical was announced. This made the musical all the more surprising and comedic, because I and many others were almost completely unfamiliar with the show.

The play follows a group of middle schoolers competing in a spelling bee, all there for differing reasons. However, they show off more than just their spelling prowess throughout the two acts of the musical.

The contestants dancing in the opening number. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

At the beginning of the musical, the announcer and vice principal, played by Jordan Bernard, call three predetermined audience members to the stage to participate in the spelling bee. As the audience members are called up, the announcer gives comedic descriptions, such as calling Ms. Howell “the whitest person to ever teach Spanish.”

After the rules of the bee were established, Brooklynn Sigmon, playing Olive Ostrovsky, sang the first character-centered song, “My Friend, the Dictionary”. While not an earworm, the song sets up Ostrovsky’s strained relationship with her father, who did not come to the bee and did not pay her $25 entrance fee, and her mother who was in India. This strain comes back in the poignantly beautiful song, “The I Love You Song”.

Brooklynn Sigmon singing "My Friend, the Dictionary" as Olive Ostrovsky, hopeful that her father will attend the bee. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

“The I Love You Song” featured Abby Shaver and Hayden Jamison as Ostrovsky’s parents, where she expressed her frustration with both of them. Sigmon sang the song in an incredibly emotionally palpable way, and the haunting vocals of Jamison and Shaver served to exacerbate that. The song is played toward the end of the musical, revealing Ostrovsky’s emotional depth after displaying a quiet and shy disposition throughout the show.

In contrast with the emotionally raw character of Olive Ostrovsky, the musical continues with its comedic theme of audience participation with the unlucky elimination of Chip Tolentino, played by JJ Pratt.

Sadie Mann and JJ Pratt playing Leaf Coneybear and Chip Tolentino respectively. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

The cast points out a particular audience member as being related to Leaf Coneybear, and later, Tolentino finds himself distracted by this audience member. After his elimination, Tolentino comes back out to sing of his defeat in the song “My Unfortunate Distraction (Chip’s Lament).”

After Tolentino, the audience members, and the extras are eliminated, the spelling bee is left with four participants: Olive Ostrovsky, played by Brooklynn Sigmon; Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Heidi Eames; Marcy Park, played by Kaitlyn Heckman; and William Barfee, played by Matt Smith. The smaller number of participants meant more detail for the characters, with my personal favorite being Marcy Park.

Collin Zwolinski-Gwyn entering the stage as Jesus Christ. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

Park sings the song “I Speak Six Languages”, lamenting her experience as an overachiever, bored with excelling in everything she does. At the end of the song, Jesus Christ, played by Collin Zwolinski-Gwyn, comes on stage and tells Park that it is not necessary to be good at everything. This leads her to purposely get the word wrong, freeing herself of the expectations set by the people around her.

Heckman played the role in a way that was perfectly balanced; she displayed the boredom and frustration of her character while maintaining the humor as Christ visited the stage.

Another character who bent to the pressure of perfection was Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, shortened to Schwartzy. She sang “Woe is Me”, a song about her and her fathers’ aspirations for her future. The lyrics of this song were much more on the nose: “I make myself crazy/Being what my dads hope I’ll be/But what about me, dads/What about me?”

Heidi Eames as Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre showing off her rainbow suspenders in support of her two fathers. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

While her character was very comedic, the emotions she displayed during her loss were heartrendingly relatable. In “Woe is Me (Reprise)”, she says, “If you don’t still love me, America/I understand why/You hate losers/So do I.” While the lyrics sound almost humorously simple, Eames delivered the lyrics in such a way that it made the plain lyrics incredibly profound.

Finally, the top two bee participants are decided. Barfee, unlike the other top four competitors, has shown no parental issues or pressure. However, he does have an exceptional memory and a particularly strange memorization technique.

His song, “Magic Foot”, described his technique, where he shuffled across stage on one foot, spelling out the word. The technique never fails, even when Shwartzandgrubenierre’s fathers attempt sabotage by putting glue on the floor before Barfee’s turn. Each time after being told his spelling is correct, he says, “I know.”

With exceptional memory and a magic foot, it is no wonder that Barfee was the eventual victor of the spelling bee. He attempted to comfort Ostrovsky, whom he had grown fond of, by saying he did not know the spelling of the word she missed either. After they both laughed at the absurdity of his statement, he admitted, “Yeah, I totally knew that word.”

Brooklynn Sigmon and Matt Smith dancing together as the final two participants. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

After bestowing first place prize on Barfee, the vice principal gives Ostrovsky an impromptu second place prize of $25, the exact amount of her unpaid entrance fee. Receiving this prize, Ostrovsky hugs the vice principal and frolics around the stage joyously.

The musical was overall much more than I expected it would be. I knew that it was a comedy, and the funniest parts were funnier than I had anticipated, but it was also much more emotionally sincere. I hope that the FCHS Theatre Department continues to perform lesser known musicals like this, because I was very pleasantly surprised with the depth of the characters past their comedic tropes.

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