The Times West Virginian

September 20, 2012

Musical comedy coming to FSU

‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ will be opening on Friday

By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — A group of 10- and 12-year-old students sit up on stage, anxiously awaiting their turn.

During an awkward adolescent period, these kids have more to deal with than just the pressure of performing well in their county spelling bee. They also have to deal with their reputation of being the “loser” at school, the “nerd” or the “geek,” all while trying to appear confident and comfortable in their own skin.

On Friday, the Fairmont State University School of Fine Arts and Masquers will open the curtains for its first production of the season with this very story line. Known as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the musical production will be held on several different dates, including Sept. 22-23 and Sept. 26-29.

Show times are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on each of those days on the Wallman Hall Stage, including an additional performance at 2 p.m. on Sept. 23. General admission tickets are $13 per person, and FSU and Pierpont Community & Technical College students have free admission with their student ID.

Having a musical at this time of the year is a different approach taken than usual at the School of Fine Arts and Masquers.

“We typically start the year off with a play, and this year, we thought it might be kind of fun to start our season off with a musical, something a little bit different,” director Troy Snyder said.

Different in the sense that this is also a newer production as far as musicals go. Directed by James Lapine and produced by David Stone, the 2005 Broadway production features a young cast, playing characters between the ages of 10 and 12. Six adolescent outsiders are competing for the spelling championship of a lifetime, in a place where they can stand out and are looked at differently than just the geeky kid in class.

In this Tony Award-winning musical comedy, the talents of many FSU theatre majors take center stage. Cast members include FSU students Rennes Carbaugh, Sami Dull, Tyler Johnson and Madison Whiting, FSU alumnus Christian Cox, and community actors Shannon Yost, Greg DeVito and Dani DeVito.

“I’ve always enjoyed this play and am happy to have the opportunity to direct it,” Snyder said. “I’m also happy to be able to work with Todd Wren as our lighting designer. A professional like Mr. Wren helps our students raise the bar of our future performances.” 

Starting the first week of August, the group has been rehearsing. More than 20 songs comprise the musical, including songs like “Why We Like Spelling” by the Spellers, “Woe Is Me” by Schwarzy, Schwarzy’s Dads & Company and “I'm Not That Smart” (Reprise) by Coneybear.

Considering the age gap between the actors and actresses and the roles they take on stage, Snyder thinks things have been going smoothly.

“They’re all playing children just about the time puberty sets in for all of them, and now they’re all young adults,” Snyder said. “I think a very interesting challenge for them is to remember what they themselves were like when they were that age.”

Whether they were popular, athletic or nerdy, the actors and actresses on stage have portrayed their outsider roles well, showcasing a very important message.

“I think part of the beauty of the show is that the people in the spelling bee are all, for lack of a better term, you would call them losers around high school,” Snyder said. “They’re the geeks, the freaks, but the spelling bee is the one place where they can shine.” 

Subtextual messages pertaining to how children are raised and parents’ high expectations for their children also come out frequently during the play. These high expectations are not only nerve-wrecking but also unattainable for some of the children.

But even losers can be winners, and that is the whole gist of the play.

“I think even ‘losers’ can be winners,” Snyder said. “It’s a comedy. It’s very upbeat. It’s just enjoyable. It’s musical theatre, so it’s a good form of entertainment.” 

To order tickets, call 304-367-4240 or visit www.fairmontstate.edu/tickets.

Email Nicole Lemal at nlemal@timeswv.com.