Naperville troupe stages 'Spelling Bee'

By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted6/13/2017 12:02 PM

This is one funny spelling bee.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the Tony Award-winning Broadway show that features comedy, music and spelling, comes to the Naperville Central High School auditorium for two weekends, courtesy of Summer Place Theatre. The show opens Friday, June 16, for a six-show run.


And the audience gets to be part of the hilarious improvisation.

"There are audience volunteers," director Jake Ganzer said. "We pull four members of the audience to be guest spellers."

While a humorous script and comedic songs move the action along at a brisk clip, the audience interaction adds a little uncertainty and uniqueness to the two-hour presentation.

"Each show is kind of its own fresh take," Ganzer said.

Ganzer, a Chicago actor and Columbia College graduate, choreographed Summer Place Theatre's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" last year.

He said the spelling bee show cast is small, with nine adults, six of whom are playing children's roles.

The characters reveal their personalities, their challenges and their triumphs as they each approach the microphone and attempt correct spellings to stay in the bee.

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There are whole scenes that take the audience into the mind of a speller. For those, the scene strays from the middle school gymnasium where the spelling bee is taking place.

"It shifts into the fantasies of the characters. What we're trying to play with is the imagination of the kids," he said.

The result is that the audience begins to identify with the characters.

"You start to root for them. You start to relate to them and pick your favorites," Ganzer said. "Giving up is tricky, especially when you've got a competitive nature. Not everyone is a winner."

With music and lyrics by William Finn and based on a book by Rachel Sheinkin, the show opened on Broadway in 2005. Originally a one-act play, Summer Place's show will be divided into two acts with an intermission, Ganzer said.


The show's vocal director is Eric Downs, who played the part of Jesus in last summer's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."

As music director, Emma Gingold will be conducting a five-piece ensemble in the orchestra pit.

The show is appropriate for adults and older children. The Summer Place Theatre website,, cautions that younger children should not attend due to some adult language and sexual content.

Tickets are available at the door and online.

"It's a very exciting show," Ganzer said. "It's a goofy, good time."

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