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Quirky musical spelling bee spills over from words into life

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – They don’t care if you call them “quirky,” as long as they can spell it.

That’s the attitude of students, teachers and judges at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the spring musical at Bethel College March 9, 10 and 11.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. each night in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center. Tickets are for sale in Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center during regular business hours, or in the LFAC ticket office before each performance (subject to availability).

The musical comedy in one long act looks at what happens when six unusual adolescents vie for the local spelling championship that will send the winner on to national competition.

Music and lyrics are by William Finn, from an original conception by Rebecca Feldman. The book is by Rachel Sheinkin. Spelling Bee made its Broadway debut in 2005. It was nominated for six Tony® Awards and won two.

This particular production is rated PG-13 on account of a song that tells why one young speller was eliminated after he paid too close attention to a pretty girl in the audience instead of the bee.

“It’s really funny and fun,” said Ethan Koerner, who has been doing technical direction and scenic and light design and stepped in last-minute as what he calls “a producer” after illness put John McCabe-Juhnke, the original director, out of commission. “It has great music.”

Koerner also pointed to “a cool and unusual twist” for which Spelling Bee is known – having four members of the audience participate in the onstage spelling bee. Some productions have included local celebrities in the ranks of the spellers.

These volunteers are solicited and prepared before each show.

Starring in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as the student spellers are Connick Roe, Kingman, as Chip Tolentino, Madison Hofer-Holdeman, Wichita, as Logainne “Schwartzy” SchwartzandGrubenierre, Kendrick Weaver, Hesston, as Leaf Coneybear, Matthew Graber, Freeman, South Dakota, as William Barfée, Kaci Wilson, Sterling, as Marcy Park, and Polly Carlson, Hurley, South Dakota, as Olive Ostrovsky.

Running the bee are Stephanie Brown, Newton, as Rona Lisa Peretti, Nathan Kroeker, Augusta, as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and Luke Unruh, Newton, as Mitch Mahoney.

Dominick Geddert, Fresno, California, and Nicholas Preheim, Peabody, play Logainne’s two dads, Carl Grubenierre and Dan Schwartz. Kate Jolliff, Newton, and Ryne Preheim, Reedley, California, appear as Olive’s parents. In the roles of Leaf’s family members are Lauren Nehrbass (Mom), Parsons, Matthew Garber (Dad), Newton, and Mackenzie O’Brien, St. George, Mareike van Bergeijk, Hesston, and Rebecca Schrag, Newton (sisters).

Jesus Martinez of Newton makes a brief but pivotal appearance as Jesus Christ.

Stage manager is Abby Phillips, Maple Hill, and sound is by Ben Carlson, Hurley, South Dakota. Costumes are by Callie Ross, Overland Park, and costumes by Sutton Welsh, Wichita.

Adam V. Fontana, Bethel director of instrumental music, is the music director for Spelling Bee, with choreography by Danika Bielek, executive director of Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts.

Community member Karin Kaufman Wall, North Newton, has stepped in to do coaching with the actors in McCabe-Juhnke’s absence.

One special aspect of the musical is that the publicity poster was chosen through a competition for art and graphic design students at several Wichita-area high schools. Bethel faculty and staff members served as judges.

Adrian Landeros Lopez from Wichita East High School had the winning design, which earned him a $5,000 scholarship to Bethel and free tickets to the musical. Second place also went to a student from Wichita East, Sydney Beal, who received a $5,000 scholarship.

The Spelling Bee cast chose their favorite poster for Honorable Mention, which went to Meghan Carlson from Valley Center High School.

Tickets for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are on sale in Thresher Shop, open Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older, and $5 for children age 3-12 and Bethel students. Tickets can also be purchased in the Luyken Fine Arts Center ticket office outside Krehbiel Auditorium before each show, subject to availability.

This production is rated PG-13 for some adult language and situations.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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