The Dickinson Community Players (DCP) brought music, emotion and a glorious spelling bee to the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4) Multipurpose Room last weekend with its production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The musical, with a book by Rebecca Sheinkin and music by William Finn, tells the story of a county spelling bee wherein six adolescent students fight to take home the trophy. Throughout the show, each character tells hilarious and heartbreaking stories about their home lives, ducking and dodging through each spelling round alongside the spelling bee’s judges and a parolee fulfilling community service hours.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was a highly emotional show, jumping from big comedic swings like Chip’s “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament)” to subdued, heart-wrenching moments like Olive’s “The I Love You Song.” Each character got their chance to shine and each performer nailed it.
The show is already incredibly fun to watch, but another element of fun is added with its tradition of audience participation. After filling out an interest sheet, four audience members were randomly selected to participate as spellers in the bee and sit on stage alongside the cast. They were occasionally called up to spell words or yanked into big dance numbers like “Pandemonium.” In Friday night’s show, the last speller made it impressively far and had to be given two words in a row to get eliminated so the show could move on.
The show was directed by Tara Mercer, a junior majoring in chemistry, along with Brandon Fung, assistant director and a sophomore majoring in English. Mercer had previous experience directing due to her role as assistant director in DCP’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Revue” last semester, which was adapted from the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Mercer discussed what it was like to be a first-time director.
“It’s definitely a lot more responsibility directing, but a welcome responsibility,” Mercer said. “Being a director, you put everything you have into it, and it’s a lot of fun … There’s so much more payoff.”
For Fung, it was his first time being an assistant director of a show, but they felt that Mercer was a great guide throughout the experience.
“It was an interesting experience because I’d never done anything like this before,” Fung said. “Thankfully, [Mercer] was very helpful the entire time. Overall, it was a good experience.”
The cast of the show deeply understood their characters, and Mercer attributed that to Fung working heavily with the cast to help them develop their characters and understand the intricate details of each of them.
“They’re phenomenal actors,” Fung said. “Honestly, they made my job really easy because I just had to give them little nudges in the right direction.”
The actors had an impressive performance, especially with the circumstances placed upon them. Two actors who were previously cast could not be in the show, so Lake Hakes, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, and Emerald Hall, assistant music director and a sophomore majoring in biology, stepped in to play their characters. Hakes and Hall only had two rehearsals before stepping up to play Mitch Mahoney and Marcy Park, respectively. However, the pair seemed like they’d been rehearsing alongside the cast for the entire process.
“[Mitch] was actually a dream role of [Hakes’] since they were, like, 15,” Mercer said. “So, they kind of knew [Mitch’s song]. Our rehearsals started at 7 [p.m.], they would come at 4 [p.m.] and we would just go through it.”
“Hall is our fantastic assistant music director, so she already knew some of the harmonies and stuff going on,” Mercer said. “She came in on Wednesday, we went through some of it, she came back on Thursday and it turns out she had watched every single video in our Google Drive with all of our harmony tracks and all of our dances, so she knew the entire show.”
“Both of them blew me away,” Mercer said.
When asked about the task of teaching all the music for the show, Mercer said “Shoutout to our fantastic music director Moss [Tice].” The music was executed beautifully with an incredibly talented, funny and nuanced cast.
DCP donates a portion of the proceeds from all of their shows to a local charity, and for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” they opted to donate their proceeds to the Broome County Public Library.
“[DCP] has such a good cause because we’re philanthropy-based, so it’s like you’re giving back to your community while also doing exactly what you want to do,” Mercer said.
Fung shared the same sentiment.
“[DCP] is great,” Fung said. “It’s been nothing but great.”