Every year the Wilton High School Senior Class provides a welcomed break from the cold when they produce an annual Senior Show and fill the audience with joy, laughter and silly memories. This year’s show, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, follows six eccentric middle school kids as they compete in a regional school spelling bee hosted by three equally bizarre adults.
“I chose it because it’s kids playing kids,” director Kathryn Luckstone, said. “It’s really funny, but it also requires a lot of talent and I felt like we had the talent pool.”
Luckstone, who was WHS Class of 2004, is directing the senior show for the first time this year, with memories of her own WHS senior show still fresh. As the high school’s new theater department producer, Luckstone said one of the big questions she faced was, “what to do with the senior show,” so she decided to take it on herself, opting for many exciting changes.
A Tony Award winning book show, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a musical comedy written with a score and live music depicting the “trials and tribulations and emotions of the spellers and hosts,” Luckstone said.
Putting on a book play contrasts previous years, when prior senior classes often adapted or in a special case, wrote their plays to have a particular soundtrack or storyline that reflected a particular grade. With only a short rehearsal time allotted for the senior show–about half the time the spring musical gets to rehearse–Luckstone made the decision to accommodate the crunched senior show rehearsal schedule with an existing play.
However, although opting for a pre-written play, the seniors did not sacrifice any humor; when asked what Wilton audiences should expect for opening night, the entire cast said, “Laughing!” in comedic unity, clearly overjoyed with the production.
“You’re going to be laughing and smiling the whole time,” WHS senior Sasha Sypher said. “There’s a lot to look at on the stage because you can just look at each character and see something funny.”
Sypher, who plays speller “Marcy Park” in addition to choreographing the show under Luckstone’s mentorship, said what makes this play unique is that not only is the acting hilarious, but the show itself is written in a very humorous way.
Senior Katie Buse agreed, adding that though she had never heard of the show before, at the read-through she was laughing so loudly that she distracted herself. “I couldn’t stop laughing. I genuinely don’t know how we’re not going to laugh,” she said.
The show also includes the rare element of audience participation which director Luckstone said, “adds a whole other element of things that we haven’t really done before in shows.”
Buse, who plays speller “Olive Ostrovsky,” said that audience participation gives the actors a unique chance to improvise on stage, which for Improv fanatics, is a great taste of the perpetually sold-out WHS Freeplay Improv Comedy.
The spellers are confident that everyone will be able to find a bit of themselves in the characters, even if they’re not called up from the audience to participate on stage. Whether in “Marcy,” the brainiac overwhelmed by the high expectations set for her; “Chip” the cocky baseball player; shy yet hopeful “Olive” looking for a friend; or the cat-loving, eccentric underdog “Leaf” hoping to prove himself; there’s a character for everyone to love and relate to on stage.
“We just love our characters that we play,” ays senior Evan Charney, who plays Chip Tolentino, said. “We can easily see parts of ourselves in [them].”
The talent and laughter the group radiates is infectious. In fact, Luckstone said it only took her 20 minutes to do the casting, an incredibly short period, because of the talent in the group.
“They make me laugh every single rehearsal so hard,” said senior Eleanor Winrow, who plays “Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere.” “I can’t watch any of them without smiling.”
This show has a smaller cast than usual for a senior show, around 24 to last year’s almost 100 participants. Luckstone said that’s likely due to the new rule mandating auditions, when in senior shows of the past auditions have been optional.
The show was still no-cut and everyone who auditioned was allowed in the cast, which Buse, Sypher and Winrow said created a relaxed, noncompetitive environment that really allowed the group to bond.
Over half of this year’s cast has never been in a high school production before. When asked how it compared with her expectations, first time high school theater participant Izzy Gouveia said, “It definitely exceeded my expectations.” Gouveia, who loves to sing, is thankful for the opportunity to dig into that passion again, and is really excited for the shows.
Beyond the comedy, the show gives us a glimpse into something more profound. All of the characters exemplify their own trauma and tribulations that come with middle school, Luckstone said, but each shows tremendous growth with it.
“I knew that this show was a comedy coming into it, but the thing that’s kind of unexpected but is really great is that there’s so much heart to it as well,” said Jake Vitarelli, who plays “Leaf Coneybear.”
This show will be vibrant, colorful, and personable. The spellers and director insist this is not one to miss.
“[I] enjoy watching them embody and grow [into] these characters” Luckstone said. “I know they’re going to be fantastic.”
The show, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, opens this weekend, with showtimes at Thursday, Jan. 23rd at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. Tickets will be sold during midterm breaks in the WHS cafeteria in the week leading up to the performance and at the door for $10 (student) and $12 (adult).