The University of Lynchburg Theatre Department will present “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which has been described as a “comical tale of several socially awkward youngsters finding joy, heartache, and a purpose in competing at the regional spelling bee.”
The play will be presented Thursday, October 24, through Sunday, October 27, in the University’s Dillard Theatre. All shows will begin at 7:30 p.m., except for the Sunday matinee, which will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets, available on etix.com, are $5 for students and faculty, $10 for senior citizens (60+), and $15 for adults.
The play is about “a group of students hoping to get to the National Spelling Bee, but the play is really about finding one’s identity and being oneself,” theatre professor and director Jeff Wittman said.
“This is where these students excel. This is their passion, their dream. This is the finals for the bee. They want to win, but by the end of the play, they realize [that] winning isn’t the only thing.”
Over the course of the story, the characters learn to appreciate each other, despite their many differences and competitiveness, because they share the same passions, “as well as the same social awkwardness,” Wittman said.
“There is a great deal of humor in the show, from certain character tropes to odd situations that the characters have to experience. Everyone will be able to relate to these characters in some way.”
Each character also has their own solo in the show. “Through song, the character can reveal their innermost emotions,” Wittman said. “A lot of the students feel a lot of pressure during the bee. One of the characters even pleads to Jesus, asking if it’s okay for her to lose the bee.”
Of the cast, Wittman said there is a “wonderful mixture of first-year students and students from different majors and theatre veterans.” He compared the Theatre Department to the spelling bee itself, saying, “Like the spelling bee, we have grown in terms of providing a creative home for students across campus. They have the chance, then, to express themselves through the art.”
Za’Marae Morgan ’23, who goes by “Z,” is part of that “wonderful mixture.” In the production, he portrays Chip Tolentino, winner of the previous year’s spelling bee. This is Morgan’s first musical at the University of Lynchburg, and he said he’s enjoyed having “a bit more freedom to really figure out how I want to portray my character.”
He added, “Here, I’ve been greatly encouraged to play with the character and see what I like and what I think works well for me. … It truly has been an awesome experience.”
The play also has a few surprises, including a few guest spellers. During the show, audience volunteers will be called onstage. “The spontaneity of the show means each show is different,” Wittman said. “It’s exciting. It’s energizing. The audience adds a whole new factor. It will be fun, not just for the cast, but for the audience too.”
During the show some cast members will even reveal unexpected talents. “One minute you’ll see a person twirling a baton, and then, the next minute someone is doing flips across the stage and you’re thinking ‘Wow! I have class with them and didn’t even know they could do that!’” Wittman said. “It’s amazing what these kids can do.”