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Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre

Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre

Catch it this weekend at the Charles! Four performances only!

If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, be sure to make your way over to Summit City Music Theatre's premiere of THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. Directed by Gavin Thomas Drew, this show will be sure to leave you roaring with laughter.

The musical follows six young students from Putnam Valley Middle School trying to win the spelling bee championship of a lifetime, all while telling stories of their home lives and the quirky, awkward experience of being a pre-teen. It premiered on Broadway in 2005 and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning the award for Best Book of a Musical.

Summit City Music Theatre will be doing a slightly different take on this show, which typically is staged as taking place in a school gymnasium. Instead, the premise is that the Putnam County School Board has rented out the Charles (the performance venue in Fort Wayne where the show will be held), and the audience members will be immersed in the world of the musical by becoming actual audience members in attendance of the spelling bee.

Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre
THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, presented by Summit City Music Theatre

Earlier this week, I was able to sit down with the director, Gavin Thomas Drew, and a few members of the cast in order to learn more about this upcoming comedy. Drew has been the artistic director for Summit City Music Theatre since February 2022, and moved back to Fort Wayne specifically to take this position. "We are hopefully about to be at a point where we can have a full season, so that's really exciting," he said.

When asked why he was so enthusiastic about presenting SPELLING BEE to Fort Wayne audiences, he had a simple answer: "It's a comedy, and I feel like we're all at a point where we need to have a good laugh. But it's also really charming- it's viewing very adult situations through the eyes of a child. So all of the kid spellers are dealing with something different in their lives, that are real world problems, but getting to view them as these large caricatures actually makes it very adaptable for an audience."

For Emersen Conner, who plays preteen speller Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, this is not her first time playing a child onstage, since she once played Sally in a production of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. But Conner embraces the challenges of diving into a role like this, noting, "You definitely have to change the way you move and you think, because playing younger- especially under the age of 10- in the way you move and the way you react and respond, there's a lot less inhibition in the way that manners and society hold you back, so if you think something is ridiculous, you might react more strongly than you do as a functioning adult. So it's been fun to let go a little bit!"

Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre
Emersen Conner as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre

The musical's sense of whimsy and fun generally contributed to it being top-of-the-list for Drew, along with the fact that it requires a small cast, which is what Summit City was looking to present this summer. Christopher Spalding, who plays Vice Principal Panch and also works as the executive producer and co-founder of Summit City Music Theatre, also mentioned that the smaller, more intimate show simply fit well with where they are as a company.

Spalding along with Mindy Cox, who shares his title as another co-founder of SCMT and will be playing Rona Lisa Peretti in the show, both emphasized that SPELLING BEE gives Summit City the opportunity to highlight this region's young talent. In addition to the many high school and university students playing the spellers in the cast itself, there are also two student musicians in the pit orchestra. "This show was going to allow us to showcase a lot of really incredible young talent," said Cox. "That's something that Chris and I feel strongly about, since we are both teachers and educators, is giving opportunities to younger artists. So this is a fun chance to work with the stars of tomorrow, as it were."

"And as a professional company," Spalding added, "because of the time frame in which we're doing it, we've done a more traditional professional rehearsal schedule, where this show we did two weeks of rehearsal, and that's it. We wanted to give these young performers the experience of what it's like when you're not doing a show at your school or in your community theater where they have two months of rehearsal. This is the speed at which professional theatres work, and it's been incredible to watch these young performers get this show up on its feet so fast and at the quality at which they're performing."

Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre
Isaac Knudsen as Chip Tolentino

Director Gavin Thomas Drew remarked how proud he is of the dedication and talent in this small ensemble of primarily young actors. "We told this cast to come off book from the very beginning... and a lot of them are either freshmen in college or high school students, and they all came in COMPLETELY memorized. So we staged the show in two days, and we started our first full run on the third day. So pretty incredible, actually remarkable, for this cast."

Be sure to make your way down to the Charles this weekend to see the show to have a good laugh and enjoy the outstanding vocal and physical performances by this stellar cast. You might even have a chance to participate in the spelling bee itself- for every performance, there are four guest spellers: one local "celebrity" speller and three spellers pulled from the audience.

Performances of THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE will be at The Charles, at 3127 Carroll Rd, Fort Wayne, IN, 46818. The show is directed by Gavin Thomas Drew, with assistant direction by Bella Hadley, music direction by Rolin Mains, and under vocal coach Mindy Cox. The cast will feature Mindy Cox as Rona Lisa Peretti, Jackson McKinney as Mitch Mahoney, Christopher Spalding as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, Michael Bartkiewicz as Leaf Coneybear, Emerson Conner as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, Caleb Cox as William Barfee, Isaac Knudsen as Chip Tolentino, Ella Nagel as Olive Ostrovsky, Rebecca Short as Marcy Park, and with Ren Moore and Madeline Steck as swings.

Feature: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at Summit City Music Theatre
Michael Bartkiewicz as Leaf Coneybear

There are four performances only and space is limited, so be sure to get your tickets now! Showtimes are July 28, 29, and 30 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, July 31 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $25 for adults or $20 for seniors and students, and they can be purchased online here or at the door.

Looking towards the horizon at what's coming up for this company, Summit City Music Theatre is presenting their gala on September 17th at the Charles. They will also be teaming up with the Fort Wayne Parks department to present a yearly production of A Christmas Carol at Saloman Farm Park. Open auditions will be September 18th, and the show will run December 1st through the 11th, 2022. Be sure to follow them on Facebook to keep updated with the latest information about the rest of this year's shows and performances!

Photos provided by Summit City Music Theatre, by Tim Andersen at Belair Photography.

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From This Author - Tara Olivero

Tara Olivero is a freelance writer and theater aficionado from Fort Wayne, with a passion for promoting the arts in northern Indiana. She's previously written for BookRiot, Pique Fort Wayne, an... (read more about this author)


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