A Gen Z Spin on the Broadway Musical ‘Spelling Bee’
The Sandbox Collective is all set to stage the Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee starting this February at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater of Circuit Makati, marking the company’s first production for its 10th year.
Written by Rachel Sheinkin, with a score by William Finn, the musical comedy revolves around six mid-pubescents vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime. Debuting on Broadway in 2005, Spelling Bee is an interactive production, featuring four guest spellers from the audience in each show.
Nineteen years after its stage debut, director Missy Maramara is giving the production a Gen Z spin, setting it in a social media-induced world.
She says that the characters, who undergo intense scrutiny for their precision in spelling at a very young age, can be likened to how young people today face the same level of scrutiny on social media everyday. “It just happens in their day-to-day life because of technology that is increasingly developing at a speed that is surpassing how humans grow organically, and that is affecting society as we know it.”
She adds that the set will also feature multimedia aspects that would reflect this very current society. “We wanted to show that by incorporating them into our design, by incorporating it with how [the characters] relate with each other.”
The cast itself is predominantly composed of young adults, the majority of whom are in their early to mid-20s, with the youngest being a 17-year-old Krystal Brimner– a departure from the show being traditionally cast with older adults.
“It’s a different flavor when it’s adults playing children and when young adults play children,” shares Maramara. “We want to reach out to the younger generation who may feel very much the same pressure as the characters– the scrutiny of social media, the constant barrage of images that would make them second guess how [they] handle all this knowledge that [they] get from the internet and deal with [their] limited world experience. Our youth deal with a lot of that pressure, and that’s why we want to offer that with a cast of that same age range.”
She adds, “We see how these young people struggle with their personal pain, which I think a lot of our young people of all ages can resonate with. How they struggle with that and how they surpass those personal struggles is what will define their character.”
“Not just the kids but also the adults, may sariling bitbit. The nice thing about comedy is that it tackles really profound material, themes, and concepts in a light-hearted way. But don’t be mistaken. Baka maiyak-iyak kayo dito, not just with the laughter, but with those poignant moments. Not just with the drama, but also the laughter.”
Robbie Guevara, who plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, says “The issues [in the show] never die, regardless of what age portrays the characters. They’re there, whether they’re played by adults, which is the way it was originally written for, or whether they’re played by the young adults, closer to the age. I think the message will keep on resonating and will be resonating differently and with more impact, depending on current situations worldwide. I think that’s the charm of this show.”
21-year-old Angela Ken, who will play the role of spelling bee newbie Olive Ostrovsky, shares, “While discovering [Olive’s] personality, iba rin pala iyung pakiramdam ng mga bata na akala mo ang babaw lang. Akala mo pagbata ka, ‘Ang babaw naman ng mga problema nila, sana iyun na lang problema ko.’ But if you put yourself in their shoes, ang bigat pala. May bubog pala. May sakit din pala. Doon po ako naka-relate kay Olive, there are family issues na hindi nare-resolve, na once you watch Spelling Bee, makikita mo na, ‘Olive din pala ako. Ganyan din pala iyung nararamdaman ko.’
“We rehearse everyday. We do a run every single day, and for some reason, I cry at a different song everyday because I understand their background, I understand where they’re coming from, I understand why it’s hurting them so much,” shares 21-year-old AC Bonifacio. “It’s so cool to see that we are kids in a musical so we can relate to actual kids but we’re really tackling real-life problems that each and every one of you can relate to.”
A 26-year-old Becca Coates says the show is for the adults to watch so they can heal their inner-child. “Isn’t that the theme of the past 3-4 years?”
The cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee features Becca Coates and Justine Narciso alternating as Loggaine “Schwarzy” SchwartzAndGrubennierre, AC Bonifacio and Shanaia Gomez alternating as Marcy Park, Diego Aranda and Luis Marcelo alternating as Chip Tolentino, Krystal Brimner and Angela Ken alternating as Olive Ostrovsky, Elian Dominguez and Shaun Ocrisma alternating as Leaf Coneybear, Joshua Ramirez and Ron Balgos alternating as William Barfée, Liesl Batucan-Del Rosario playing Rona Lisa Peretti, Audie Gemora and Robbie Guevara alternating as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and Nyoy Volante playing Mitch Mahoney, alternating with Jordan Andrews for select performances.
The show is directed by Missy Maramara, with Dingdong Rosales as assistant director and Rony Fortich as musical director. Joining them are Franco Ramos as choreographer, Tata Tuviera as production designer, D Cortezano as lighting designer and technical director, Aji Manalo as sound designer, and Joyce Garcia as video designer.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will run from February 24 to March 17, 2024 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater, Circuit Makati.
You can watch the cast perform a medley from the show in the video below.