Wright State wraps theater season with ‘Spelling Bee’ musical



William Finn, Rachel Sheinkin and Rebecca Feldman’s delightful 2005 musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” closes Wright State University’s 2023-2024 theater season March 15-31 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.

This witty, satirical, naughty and tender tale about six awkward spelling champions received the Tony Award for Sheinkin’s smart libretto, formulated from Feldman’s improvisational play “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E” originally performed by the New York-based improvisational troupe The Farm.

Each character has a very unique personality or eccentricity but finds common ground in a mutual fondness for words which gives them immense pride and purpose. Finn (Tony-winning composer of “Falsettos”) brings their frustrations and hopes to the forefront with terrific character-specific songs such as “My Friend, the Dictionary,” “Pandemonium,” “I’m Not That Smart,” “Magic Foot,” “Woe is Me,” “The I Love You Song,” and the bouncy title tune.

“‘Spelling Bee’ is a perfect combination of humor wit and heart,” said director/choreographer Joe Deer, WSU distinguished professor in musical theatre and former artistic director of WSU Theatre, in a news release. “Every one of us can see some part of our own experience, our vulnerabilities and ambitions at that age, and laugh at them because they are us. I think it’s a very rare piece of theater that can do all of that with so much skill.”

In addition, the production has been double-cast, allowing more opportunities for students to develop and evolve.

“We’ve done something amazing in creating two full casts for this show,” Deer said. “Of course, it gives a lot of students an opportunity to play great roles, but it also puts on display the incredible individuality and versatility of our hugely talented students. Our most devoted audience members may choose to come and see both casts.”



Deer’s artistic team includes music director F. Wade Russo, guest scenic designer Ray Zupp, costume designer and senior Sean Hannah, and lighting design by professor Matthew Benjamin and student Alex Markley.

In particular, Zupp has been designing for over 15 years, working in theatres across the United States as well as television and film, working on projects for Netflix, HBO, Peacock, ABC, Amazon and Disney+. His memorable designs have been seen locally at the Human Race Theatre Company (”One Slight Hitch,” “The House,” “Lizzie,” “The Revolutionists,” and the upcoming “Peerless,” directed by Wright State Theatre Artistic Director Marya Spring Cordes) and Dayton Ballet (”Cinderella,” “Dracula: Bloodlines,” “The Nutcracker” 2011-2023, and the brand new “Nutcracker” this winter). He currently works as a full-time art director, spending the last two years designing immersive attractions for major theme parks in the United States and abroad in the UK, Saudi Arabia and China.

The production also marks the last show Deer will helm as a full-time faculty member. He views “Spelling Bee” as the perfect finale to his accomplished and acclaimed WSU career, which includes heading the musical theatre program for 20 years and serving as director of The Musical Theatre Initiative.

“I think it’s fitting because it’s all about sensitive and exceptional young people at the beginning of their journey,” Deer explained. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of students over the last 27 years at this university, and many more around the world. As much as we like to think that there are big differences between generations and nationalities, the reality for me is that their desire to develop their craft and be able to tell the stories that matter most to them is universal and timeless.”


What: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton

When: March 15-31; 8 p.m. March 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30; and 2 p.m. March 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 and 31

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: Call 937-775-2500 or visit liberal-arts.wright.edu/fine-and-performing-arts

FYI: The Dictionary Cast will perform March 17 (evening), 18, 22, 23 (matinee), 28, 30 (evening) and 31: Lindsay Bates (Rona Lisa Peretti), Eamon Mitchell (Douglas Panch), Evette Williamson (Midge Mahoney), Devon Fruscione (Olive Ostrovsky), Atlas Kessinger (William Barfee), Eli Peel (Leaf Coneybear), Joclyn Blake (Marcy Park), Danny Dobbins (Chip Tollentino), and Meghan Hohman (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere).

The Thesaurus Cast will perform March 15, 16 (matinee), 21, 23 (evening), 24, 29 and 30 (matinee): Claire Northcut (Rona Lisa Peretti), Toby Hattemer (Douglas Panch), Blaise D-B (Mitch Mahoney), Sam Evans (Olive Ostrovsky), James Newton (William Barfee), Andres Martinez (Leaf Coneybear), Amirah Musa (Marcy Park), Aidan Edwards (Chip Tollentino), and Sara Ashley Tuohy (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere).

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