‘25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ in Munster
When David Perkovich cast the latest musical comedy at Theatre at the Center, he had no problem picking the actor for the lead role or how to spell her surname.
Cory Goodrich will play the moderator in the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which runs July 11-Aug. 18 in Munster.
Except for Goodrich, the show is an ensemble production, playing off the modern popularity of spelling bees.
“I had a huge turnout of a couple of hundred for auditions,” Perkovich said. “But I didn’t have to audition Goodrich.”
Perkovich had directed Goodrich in 1990 in one of her first shows in the Chicago area after she graduated from Michigan State University’s theater program.
“Cory has one of the most beautiful voices around,” he said. “I directed her in ‘Brigadoon’ at the (former) Candlelight (Dinner Playhouse). She won a Jeff Award nomination for the role of Meg.”
Goodrich has since transitioned from ingenue roles to the “motherly roles,” she calls them, such as the wife of P.T. Barnum in “Barnum” that just wrapped at Chicago’s Mercury Theater and “The Christmas Schooner.”
In real life, Goodrich is the mother of two girls: Celia, 11, and Genevieve, 8, who also have had to deal with spelling lessons at their school in Wheaton, Ill.
In addition to appearing on many stages throughout the United States, Goodrich has performed outreach in inner-city high schools and children’s programs.
That makes her somewhat experienced at dealing with the preteens in the fictitious “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” except these prepubescents are proficient at polysyllabic words.
In the cast are six contestants — plus three volunteers from the audience — in addition to two adult assistants to Goodrich’s role of Rona Lisa Perretti.
She is Putnam’s longtime spelling bee hostess and was the champion in the third annual contest.
Actually, all the actors are adults, but Perkovich chose the twentysomething actors as the contestants for their ability to play credible and quirky preteens.
They include Frank J. Paul as Isaac “Chip” Berkowitz, Jonathan Wagner as William Barfee, Nicole Miller as Olive Ostrovsky, Landre Fleming as Logainne Schwarz and grubenierre, Patrick Tierney as Leafy Coneybear, and Rose Le Tran as Marcy Park.
It’s quite a diverse half-dozen, though. One is loud and combative; another has attention deficit disorder.
There is one contestant who has a remarkable technique of spelling out words on the floor with his foot.
Logainne got her long surname by combining the names of her two gay fathers.
Jake Mahler and Bear Bellinger play the two vice principals.
The long, one-act show first hit Chicago in 2005 at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, shortly after it left Broadway. The show became a worldwide hit and was translated into several languages.
William Finn wrote the music and lyrics. The book by Rachel Sheinkin won a Tony Award.
Words by the audience volunteers are often unscripted and improvised but not by Goodrich.
“I’m not much of a speller myself,” she said. “Thank goodness for spell check,” or cheque, as it’s spelled in Britain.
Don Snider is a local freelance writer.