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FCP presents ‘25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’
Joseph S. Williams waves goodbye on Tuesday during rehearsal for the First City Players’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Ketchikan High School auditorium. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

First City Players will be presenting “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22 and June 23 at Ketchikan High School. The musical features several quirky characters who are vying for the chance to represent Putnam County at the national bee.

According to the play’s director, FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson, the play isn’t really about a spelling bee. Although it takes place at a spelling bee and in a school, it is a human story. A story of children and failure — but mostly triumph.

“It’s so funny because it’s so honest,” Nelson said. “A spelling bee seems like such an interesting basis to write a play on. The woman who wrote the original script … loved to watch spelling bees, so she would watch the Scripps on TV. (She) talked about how the kids were so fascinating to watch.

“Partly because they’re just so honest,” she continued. “There’s no filters for them. Their desires, and what they want, and who they are just ends up becoming very real and it’s just out there.”

The musical is a short, light-hearted, silly play lasting about an hour-and-a-half, Nelson said. To describe the production, she keeps going back to the word “charming,” because the idea of it is — seeing adults playing kids and having to go back to that place of vulnerability and honesty that “kids just have.”

“When we’re younger we haven’t learned to hide everything yet — or if we do, we don’t do it very well when we’re younger,” Nelson noted. “(It is) really moving in an odd way. … Because there’s something about the kids that is so real. They’re just who they are, and you start getting a sense of that as you’re watching.”

Throughout the show, Nelson said the audience will see the characters’ stories unfold. She said it’s a worthwhile play, one that makes her feel like she’s made nine new friends — all of the cast members.

Danielle Pratt is one of those people. She plays Marcy Park, a character who is good at everything she does. She doesn’t really have to try hard to be good, and she’s an extremely good speller, according to Nelson. Park just moved to Putnam County from Virginia, a state she represented at the national bee last year. She placed ninth there, and she goes to Catholic school.

Nelson said that although Park is a very good speller, the pressure of always having to be the best is sometimes confusing for someone that young — so she struggles with that.

This is Pratt’s first year auditioning and she has been cast in every show this season, according to FCP Marketing and Outreach Director Amanda Glanzer.

Pratt said she’s really enjoyed working on “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” because it’s such an ensemble effort. According to her, there really is not a lead character and all of the cast has to work together to make the show work. Pratt thinks anyone planning on watching the show should pay close attention.

“People should watch for how difficult the musical score is for both the singers and the musicians in the pit,” Pratt wrote to the Daily News. “It has taken a massive amount of work from everyone to get this show on its feet.”

She added that the show is hilarious and goes beyond the typical theatrical musical. Pratt hopes the audience will enjoy it as much as the cast does.

Another character is William Barfee, played by Rick Pickrell. Pickrell hasn’t been in a FCP show for 15 years, but was looking to get back into acting. Nelson said his character is a bit of nerd, but he has a very special attribute: A magic foot. He spells out everything with his foot on the stage before he says it.

“When I first read (the play) it was kind of interesting,” Pickrell said. “I kind of looked it up on YouTube a little bit. It was funny, it was good; and then as I’ve been in the show, it’s got a lot more depth and … there’s a lot more to it than what’s on the surface of it.”

The youngest speller at the bee and the one with the longest name is Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, who is played by Glanzer. The character’s last name is a combination of her two fathers’ last names, and she doesn't know her birth mother.

Schwartzandgrubenniere has a bit of a lisp, but is a very good speller, according to Nelson. She is also the head of the gay-straight alliance at her school, as an 8-year-old. Schwartzandgrubenniere is a believer of rights for all people.

“I love her. I love her so much,” Glanzer said. “All the parts that I have played, not all of them, but the majority of the parts that I have played, that I have been cast in, have been very snarky and always funny — but older and like, knowing and very quick-witted. Whereas Logainne is just sweet, and innocent, and fun, and kind.”

Along with Schwartzandgrubenniere, Barfee and Park, the other children played by adults at the bee are:

• Chip Tolentino, played by Paul Kortemeier, is one of the older spellers. He was the winner last year and did go to nationals. He is a Boy Scout, made evident by his many badges. He’s very bright, a adolescent who has a lot of advantages. Nelson said he is facing some embarrassing things that young boys often do. It is Kortemeier’s last show before heading to graduate school.

“I have no doubt you will excel in graduate school and I’m so excited to see where your talent takes you,” wrote Nelson in her director’s notes regarding Kortemeier. “It has been such a joy to work with you over the past years. Thank you for sharing your talent not only with me, but with Ketchikan.”

• Leaf Coneybear, played by Arick Mattson, is a special homeschooled child. He didn’t win his bee. He is there because of some things that happened to the people who did. He likes to wear his heelys, so he rolls everywhere — but his mother does make him wear knee pads and a helmet.

• Olive Ostrovsky, played by Lori Orlowski, is a child of busy parents. She spends a lot of time with her dictionary and she is very sweet. She’s a lovely girl, Nelson said. This is Orlowski’s first musical lead, according to Glanzer.

The adults at the bee are:

• Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Estelle Cowie, is a former winner. She won the third annual bee. She’s currently the top realtor in Putnam County, and this is her ninth year hosting the bee. Perretti loves spellers and the spelling bee, as it’s a cherished memory for her.

• Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Austin Hays, is the word pronouncer. He has done this in the past, but there is an unspecified incident that happened. He’s a little odd for no specific reason, but he’s a good word pronouncer.

• Mitch Mahoney, played by Joseph Williams IV, is doing his community work service. He is the comfort counselor. When a kid is eliminated by the ding of a bell, he will hand them a juice box and make sure they are able to exit comfortably. If they fall apart, he is there to comfort them.

Audience members will also have a special chance to be in the production. There will be a table in the Kayhi commons set up where people can fill out a form. There will be a quick interview to get basic information, and it’s all volunteer, Glanzer said.

No one will be called on stage that does not want to participate, she added. If someone knows they want to do it at a certain show on Saturday or June 22 or June 23, contact FCP. The theater group needs four audience volunteers at every show.

“We don’t want actors, this is not for a performance at all,” Nelson chimed in. “This is really, if you like to spell, we would love to have you come and be part of the spelling bee — and want to win.”