Jonathan Wagner (from left), Frank Paul, Rose Le Tran, Patrick Tierney, Nicole Miller and Landree Fleming star in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at Theatre at the Center.
♦ July 11-Aug. 18
♦ Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.
♦ Tickets $38-$42.
When David Perkovich cast the latest musical comedy at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind., 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 through Aug. 18.
Except for Goodrich, the show is an ensemble production. It plays off the modern popularity of spelling bees.
“I had a huge turnout of a couple of hundred for auditions,” said Perkovich. “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 (now defunct) Candlelight Theatre. She won a Jeff Award nomination for the role of Meg.”
Goodrich has since transitioned from ingenue roles to the more mature parts — “motherly roles,” she calls them, such as the wife of P.T. Barnum in the play that just wrapped up at Chicago’s Mercury Theatre and “The Christmas Schooner” in December at the TATC.
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 west suburban Wheaton.
In addition to appearing on many stages throughout the area and the country, Goodrich has performed outreach programs in inner city high schools and children’s programs.
That makes her somewhat experienced at dealing with the pre-teens in the fictitious “Putnam County.”
Except these Putnam County 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 long-time spelling bee hostess and was the champion in the third annual contest.
Actually, all of the actors are adults, but Perkovich chose the twenty-something actors as the contestants for their ability to play credible and quirky pre-teens.
They include Frank J. Paul as Chip Tolentino, Jonathan Wagner as William Barfee, Nicole Miller as Olive Ostrovsky, Landre Fleming as Loganinne Schwartzandgrubierre, Patrick Tierney as Leafy Coneybear, and Rose LeTran 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. Loganinne 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 in Water Tower Place, shortly after it left Broadway. It has since been a worldwide hit and 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 free-lance writer.