ISU Theatre’s ‘Spelling Bee’ is a W-I-N-N-E-R

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"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" pits youngster against youngster in a battle of words in the ISU Theatre Department’s newest production. [/raw]

Can you spell ‘deliteful?’ Er, we mean, ‘delightful?’

It’s the best way to describe ISU Theatre’s production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a show featuring six honest youngsters vying for the chance to become the next Champion of the Bee.

Presented by the Iowa State University Department of Music and Theatre, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the musical tells the story of cocky returning champ, Chip, lisping Logainne, aspiring Leaf, socially-challenged Barfee, self-assured Marcy, timid Olive, and Mitch – the Bee’s bad boy. Each long for the sky-high trophy that sits atop the moderators’ desk, although only one of them will take home the prize.

(Watch a video preview of the show here:)



Post by Iowa State University – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Joseph Smith, a senior in performing arts, plays William Barfee, a basement-dwelling, science-loving, socially awkward 12-year-old who can’t be bothered by mindless chit-chat with other contestants. Barfee (it’s Bar-FAY, not Bar-FEE, but he’ll be first to correct your pronunciation) is completely focused on the competition at hand.

“When playing a kid, you have to be really open so their vulnerability shows through,” Smith said. “It’s really a combined effort between the whole cast – we all work together so we can be convincing as kids – in our walking, talking, singing – everything.”

That’s what the show boils down to: a peek into the sincerity and insecurity of a child as they claw for something they want. Laced with comedy and wit – such as when Logainne asks that strabismus be used in a sentence and, in a helpful, cheerful tone, the moderator replies: “In the schoolyard, Billy protested that he wasn’t cockeyed. ‘I suffer from strabismus,’ he said, whereupon the bullies beat him harder” – the show tugs at heartstrings as the crowd roots for and laughs at each competitor.

Cassilyn Ostrander, a junior in psychology and performing arts, plays the youngest contestant, Logainne, who Ostrander describes as “the most enthusiastic, politically-minded, stressed little girl.” Logainne, who is trying with all her might to please her two overbearing gay fathers, speaks with a lisp but also with confidence. In her pigtails and argyle sweater, she belts out the spelling of her first word, strabismus.

“I love Logainne’s character and I just knew she would fit me,” Ostrander said of auditioning for the part. “I’m a lot like her.”

Christopher Culver, a freshman in vocal performance, brings a bit of attitude to the show. Playing Mitch Mahoney, an ex-con who is performing community service at the Bee, Culver is challenged to play the convincing role of a tough guy – the kind of guy that scares the smarts out of nerds like those competing in the Bee.

“Mitch is a big, intimidating guy,” he said, donning a black leather jacket and slicked back hair. “Which, clearly, I am not.”

Culver didn’t let minor details, like lacking natural brawn, stand in his way during auditions. A lover of the stage and all its possibilities, he looked at the role as a challenge.

“I love being on stage,” he said. “I love the performance aspect and I really believe that theater is the most effective way to change the world. It’s a beautiful way to evoke emotion and it gets people to feel something they may not have otherwise. With Mitch, this is another opportunity for me to get up there and do that.”

The show also encourages crowd participation, and before the show three audience members are invited up on stage to “compete” in the Bee. Who will win and how low will they stoop to do it? Well, we won’t spell it out for you.

-30- [php]view_las_blurb();[/php] Jess Guess, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-9906 (