The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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How well can Bucknell spell?: Theatre & Dance Spring Musical

This past weekend, the Bucknell Theatre & Dance Department put on their biennial musical, this year’s production being “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by Rachel Sheinkin. 

The musical has a nonchalant beginning, as members of the cast are already “setting up” the spelling bee when audience members arrive. The real action begins with a flashback to when Rona Lisa Perretti (Becca Lipsky ’25) was the winner of the spelling bee, with the opening musical number transitioning us to the present where she currently serves as the moderator. As the song continues, we are introduced to the other cast members, particularly this year’s contestants. 

A slew of “kids” enter to register for the bee: Chip Tolentino (Bryson Fuhrer ’27), Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Gabriella Cappelloni ’27), Leaf Coneybear (Libby Hoffman ’24), William Barfée (Ryan Hill ’24), Marcy Park (Harper Dick ’25), Olive Ostrovsky (Julia Piccolino ’27), Arya Bennett (Defne Gumus ’27), Camille Campo (Jaela Rivera ’27), Jimmy Darius Eichenbaum (Zoe Fleury ’27) and Roman Noomerale (Matthew Alexander ’26). The audience is quickly able to feel out most of the competitors’ quirks, which also impact how they spell. 

Rona introduces official word announcer Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Adam Walker ’26) and comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Paige Gilmartin ’26). Additionally, a handful of volunteer pre-appointed audience members are called up to participate in the spelling bee, to which their only challenge is not scripted lines, but spelling their given word correctly. 

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The spelling bee takes off, and as each contestant is called to the microphone, Rona reads off a fun fact about them that allows the audience to become even more familiar with the character. We learn that Leaf, though placing third in her school spelling bee, earned her spot through the absence of the first and second winners. She is regarded as “dumb” by her sizable family, but enters a state of trance while spelling that has allowed her to progress this far. 

“The cast in this show made the rehearsal process incredibly special and exciting each and every day,” said Hoffman. “I was really nervous at the beginning of this process because I had never performed solo in a musical before, but from the very first rehearsal, I felt nothing but support and encouragement from each member of both the cast and the production team.”

“While the people involved were inevitably my favorite part of this process, I also enjoyed returning to childhood through the exploration of my character in the world of Spelling Bee,” explained Hoffman. “It was so fun to step into the shoes of someone who views everything around them with wonder, and I feel as though my time playing Leaf showed me a new perspective on how to face real world challenges.”

William’s special spelling skill involves his “magic foot,” in which his Oxford-clad right foot spells out the letters on the ground as he announces them. We learn early on that Olive’s parents are not only not in attendance, but generally absent from her life as her father has a busy work schedule and her mother is away on a “spiritual journey.” Impacted by her subsequent insecurities, she is a shy speller that tends to cover her mouth and speaks softly when spelling. 

Logainne quickly establishes her enthusiasm for spelling, her competitive nature later explained by a flashback to the intense sports-like training given by her two dads. Marcy, presented as new to the area, efficiently spells out her given words with poise. The two act as foils of each other, with Logainne’s competitive nature leaving her saddened after a misspelling, whereas Marcy purposely misspells one of her words to break free of the pressures and stereotyping as a do-it-all student.

Chip’s excitable personality keeps him on his toes during the bee, but unfortunately he finds himself a little too excited when daydreaming about one of Leaf’s sisters. Initially reluctant to take his turn, then awkwardly backing himself up to the microphone, Chip throws away his chances of winning as he misspells his word.

“This production was a fantastic first experience with a musical at Bucknell,” said Fuhrer. “I would say that my favorite part was getting to work with everyone in the cast, especially getting to know the upperclassmen I hadn’t worked with before. I also really loved the emphasis on the show’s characters, and how the spelling bee was a backdrop to the characters’ journeys throughout the show.”

“The first week of rehearsal was very intimidating for me,” continued Fuhrer. “I didn’t know how the process was going to work, and there were a lot of people who were more experienced than me in the cast. These fears eventually faded because of how accepting and open everyone was, and by closing night, I can say for sure that the people in the cast and crew became like a family to me.”

Mitch Mahoney’s role as a comfort counselor comes as a result of parole volunteer obligations, leaving her to be the least enthusiastic on the spelling bee stage. Mitch’s hard-shelled exterior clashes with the participants, who feel that their loss is the end of the world, whereas Mitch wants to tell them that it’s hardly a tragedy in comparison to life’s many obstacles. In a surprising departure from character, Mitch debuts her own energetic musical number as she comforts Jimmy after their loss. 

As the contestants slowly trickle away, including our brave audience participants, we are left with Olive and William anxiously competing for the trophy. The two have seemingly become friends, straying from William’s harsh and spelling-focused nature and Olive’s timidness. In the back of their minds, they’re debating if they want this victory or if they would rather relinquish it to a new friend. In the end, Olive misspells a word, giving William the win that he had been “robbed of” the year prior. 

“My favorite part of working with this production was the welcoming environment, character work, and the atmosphere of play,” said Piccolino. “We were encouraged to avoid caricatures and instead fully immerse and humanize our roles. The musical is constructed so that most characters stay in the audience’s eye for the majority of the show, so nailing their mannerisms, habits, and behavior in a social environment is crucial. We were encouraged to explore our characters down to what socks they prefer to wear or what they consider a happy memory. Eventually, their habits became second nature, and stepping into a character was like becoming a new person.”

The musical is closed out by each cast member participating in a looking-forward-type ending, announcing what they end up doing or plan to do in the coming years.

“My favorite part of this process was working with the cast and student crew,” said Director and Choreographer Dustyn Martincich. “Everyone was incredibly collaborative, insightful, and generous in sharing themselves and inspiration with me and each other. The process was playful, open-minded, and ultimately celebrated the individual characters that came to form the community of the Spelling Bee.”

“This was one of the most joyful creative processes in my time at Bucknell because of who was in the room,” expressed Martincich. “Folks really showed up for each other, staying committed to the process and each other. The Swing cast (Abby Campion ’27, Alex Schajer ’27 and Lizzie Hopper ’27) should get a special shout out as well as the cast members who worked as understudy roles.”

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Kelsey Werkheiser
Kelsey Werkheiser, Print Managing Editor
Major: Creative Writing and Sociology '25 Hometown: Easton, PA

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