WT Theatre Hopes to Spell Its Way to S-U-C-C-E-S-S with New Musical

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CANYON, Texas — Laundry. Restaurant. Surpass. 

These are the words that still haunt the director and cast members of West Texas A&M University Theatre’s upcoming production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical comedy celebrating the intense, awkward and adorably odd competitors of the titular bee. 

The musical, by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 to Oct. 1 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1 and 2 in the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre inside the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex. 

Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and non-WT students, and free for WT students, faculty and staff with a Buff Gold Card. 

In the show, six quirky preteens—under the watchful eyes of three equally idiosyncratic adults—are battling for the trophy, singing songs that illuminate their peculiarities, their challenging home lives and their sometimes-bizarre methods of correctly spelling, for example, “capybara” or “cystitis.” 

“This is just an unabashed comedy, and sometimes you really need those,” said director Bradley Behrmann, assistant professor of musical theatre. 

Even when—or perhaps precisely because—the laughs come largely from the universal terror of forgetting when the “i” goes before the “e.” 

“I competed in fourth grade, in this scary round room where we were all standing in front of each other and all the kids were staring at you, hoping you’d get the word wrong,” said Peyton Hastings, a sophomore musical theatre major from Sundown, who plays Olive Ostrovsky. “This show brings that feeling back. I’m so scared that I’ll misspell something for real in a performance.” 

She’s not the only one feeling that way. 

“I’m awful at spelling,” confessed Natalie Lawson, a senior theater performance major from Canyon who plays Marcy Park, who she calls “the ultimate overachiever.” 

“I think most of the cast will tell you that they’re awful spellers, too,” Lawson continued. 

But sometimes, you have to laugh at your fears, Behrmann said—and select audience members will get to do the same at each performance. Volunteers will be thrust into the bee themselves, giving the student actors the chance to hone their improvisational skills. 

“There will be elements that change every night,” Behrmann said. “But these actors are all comedians—from Day 1, they’ve all been cracking each other up—and they really do enjoy building that camaraderie with everyone on stage, including our guests.” 

In addition to Hastings and Lawson, cat members include Zachary Todd, a senior musical theatre major from Flower Mound, as Chip Tolentino; Noa Sorrell, a sophomore musical theatre major from Southlake, who plays Logianne Schwartzandgrubeniere; JP Lay, a freshman acting major from San Antonio, who plays Leaf Coneybear; RJ Flud, a senior musical theatre major from Midland, who plays William Barfée; Hunter Schineller, a senior musical theatre major from Tempe, Arizona, who plays Rona Lisa Perretti; Aidan Tsichlis, a senior musical theatre major from Plano, who plays Douglas Planch; and Michael Olinger, a senior musical theatre major from Pearland, who plays Mitch Mahoney. 

Understudies are Abigail Martin, a junior musical theatre major from Amarillo; and Camila Gutierrez, a freshman musical theatre major from Palm Desert, California. 

Music director is Chloe Ridolfo, a graduate student in music from Los Angeles. Choreographer is Abbi Roe, a Roswell, New Mexico, native pursuing a second bachelor’s in dance. 

Fostering an appreciation of the arts is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. 

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched Sept. 23 — has raised more than $110 million.

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