Behind the Scenes Look at “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

By Isabella Baldoni

“2:10 warm up, be on stage! I need you all to be good by then!” Ali Mandell, a Mainstage senior starring as moderator Rona Lisa Peretti in The 25th Annual, directs her flock to the stage. Miss Michaels, Hamden High’s newest addition to the drama department, pushes a cart of juice boxes out of the rehearsal black box and into the auditorium as actors rush backstage to pull on their costumes, and set designers rush center stage to adjust the scenery. “Set the set so we can do a full run-through,” Miss Michaels calls over her shoulder.

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I was able to use this pre- warm-up time to get a hint at what daily rehearsals were like for our student actors, which led me to learn that there was only one thing that stayed the same- variety. Upon asking several students what the basic schedule of daily rehearsal is, the overwhelmingly common answer was a sly smile and a miniscule shrug. “We warm up until 2:25, and it’s basically whatever Miss Michaels wants us to do until we leave at 5:30,” quotes Raymond Looney, a HHS junior who stars as speller Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual.

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Students getting ready before warm-ups

However, Thursday’s schedule treated me to a very unique experience. Not only was I able to see the drama department in action weeks before the opening of the show, but I was treated to the full run through of the musical.

There’s a strong sense of camaraderie as warm-ups begin, with Joe Benitez, playing convict and Official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney in The 25th Annual, leads the group in a series of stretches and vocal exercises. “Reach up like the little sunflower in the sun that you are.. and then bring it around town,” his directions bringing laughs from the cast as well as the appropriate motions along with them.

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Actors warm up on stage

While much of the stereotypical portrayal of actors presents them as self-centered and inconsiderate, what I have seen from the Hamden High Mainstage Ensemble displays anything but. To close our their warm-up, the actors grabbed each other’s hands to form a ring, and bowed their heads. “I’m going to send a pulse around- it’s not supposed to be fast or anything, it’s just to let everyone know that we care for them and we support them.”

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Students send the pulse around and listen to senior Ali Mandell

After warm-ups, senior Ali Mandell stands in front of the group to offer some tough encouragement to her peers- “So we open two weeks from today.” Any side conversation immediately stopped- the group froze.It was apparent that this fact is all too familiar to the cast. “All of the joking around during rehearsals needs to stop. We need to step it up- there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.” The casts nod solemnly. “We need to be prepared- we need to get on stage opening night and we need to know that we’re prepared. For this show, you have to be prepared, but you also have to have fun. We should be tired after these rehearsals, but we should also be excited.”

After warm ups, the cast prepares to go through the show, and goes behind the wall of the set. While I can’t share too much about the actual content of the show, (journalist’s confidentiality and all) I just have to share my impression of the show. While a musical set around an elementary school spelling bee sounds, at the very least, boring for a high school age audience, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is anything but- with songs with titles such as My Unfortunate Erection and enough of innuendo to tide any high-schooler over, this show exceeded all of the expectations I had. The cast of this show is absolutely sparkling- from the hilarious believability of Leaf Coneybear’s slightly off personality to the ambition and convincingly childlike lisp of Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere, the talent of HHS’s theater department has to be seen to be believed.

Be sure to check out the show on March 26th, 27th, 28th!

Ticket forms can be found on the door of the blackbox

Enjoy more exclusive pictures of the show below:

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