September 24, 2020

Side-splitting play and musical take the high school stage this spring

Lizzie Mears '16 and Jack Grossi '18 performed leading roles in the high school's interactive performances of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Courtesy Photo).

With colorful characters like a quirky comfort counselor and even more colorful songs with titles such as “My Unfortunate Erection,” the spring musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is the hilarious journey of six eccentric, socially-awkward pre-teens as they compete for the champion title in their county’s spelling bee that took the high school stage at 4:30 on May 6, 7:30 on May 7 and 9.

The musical is an interactive production that invited audience members up to the stage to test their spelling alongside the cast as the play unfolded. The laughs continue on in this spring’s play, The Comedy of Errors, which is a modern twist on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of mistaken identity. The play will take place in the high school little theatre on June 4 and 6.

After three years of producing two spring plays, one cast with juniors and seniors, and one with freshman and sophomores, this year the drama department decided to hold a small musical and a play both open for any grade level to participate in. Acting teacher and musical director Stephen Wrobleski changed this because he wanted to put on some of the small musicals he really enjoys.“[Spelling Bee is a] piece I’ve loved for a long time,” he said “It’ s really funny; it’s very quirky. I thought it would be really great given the students we have right now. It will be a really great fit.” He explained that he decided to produce Comedy of Errors because he aims to put on a Shakespeare play every four years to provide every student the opportunity to act in a Shakespearian play.

Wrobleski directed  the musical with help from student directors Alison Joyce ’15 and Margaux Higgins ’15. His favorite part of the musical is its deviation from basic characters and predictable plot line. “Most musicals have the stereotypical male ingenue or female ingenue, and this show doesn’t have that at all. There are all these really quirky people, and they’re all a little bizarre, and that’s really fun. It’s fun not to have to play the ingenue or even have the female ingenue or have that typical love story,” he said. “It’s a fun world to invest in, and the actors have had a fun time creating those people”

Cypress Smith ’17 played the part of the comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, who reassures contestants after losing and also happens to be on parole completing his community service hours. Smith reflected Wrobleski’s appreciation for the unique humor of the play. “It’s so funny,” she said, “but the jokes are so subtle I didn’t get them until now.” She later added “the humor is definitely my favorite part.”

That same quirky humor and line up of eccentric characters carries through to the play, which is Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors set in a modern day casino. Liam Skelly ’17, who plays Dr. Pinch, said that one of his favorite parts of the play is the colorfulness of the characters. “I like that I’m always doing ridiculous stuff [in the role of the witch doctor Pinch]. I was worried at first that my role would be small, but I like that he’s on the crazy side,” he said.

He added that the strangeness of the characters contribute to humor in the play. Especially since Comedy of Errors deals with two sets of twins who are commonly mistaken for each other, yet in this case the twins look nothing alike, there is lots of new, creative humor in the classic comedy.

For the play, Wrobleski hired Emerson College student Ben Cutler as a director, as well as appointing Mary Moynihan ’15 and Drew Hawkinson ’15 as student directors. “[Having another director] is better for my health” he joked after explaining the stress of coordinating two productions simultaneously one year. Skelly added that he really enjoys having a director so close in age and the mutual respect that stimulates. “[Cutler] is really laid back and easygoing. He doesn’t care if you swear or anything at rehearsal. He works at the middle school all day, so when he gets here he really respects us,” Skelly said, “and because of this, whenever he talks, everyone always listens to him.”

While both the play and musical are whimsical and fun, naturally there are challenges to putting together such large productions. Wrobleski said one of the biggest challenges is just finding space to rehearse between all the other events and on-goings in the Performing Arts department, but he said they always do end up making room for rehearsal. “I work with the best people ever,” Wrobleski said, crediting choral director Kevin McDonald, band conductor Steven Scott, orchestra conductor Katherine Greene, and moving company leader Janet Sozio. “We’re all so accommodating of each others’ schedules and work really hard to help each other out. I have the best colleagues in the universe; I really do.”

With only a few weeks until show time of the play, Wrobleski encourages people to “get here early and get tickets,” he said. “and just enjoy; we want to take people away for a little bit and tell them a story.”

(Olivia Gieger ’17, Arts Editor)

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