Carson School presents 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Doug Smith. Back: L-R Shade Ingraham and Hunter Mruz Front: L-R Becca Hess, Nick Prior, Abbie Austin, Desiree Bartels
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Doug Smith. Back: L-R Shade Ingraham and Hunter Mruz Front: L-R Becca Hess, Nick Prior, Abbie Austin, Desiree Bartels

Carson School presents 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

calendar icon30 Oct 2015    

Lincoln, Neb.--The Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film continues its 2015-2016 theatre season with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Performances are Nov. 12-14 and 18-21 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. in the Howell Theatre.

Tickets are $18 regular, $16 faculty/staff/seniors and $12 for students and are available in advance from the Lied Center Box Office at (402) 472-4747 or (800) 432-3231 or one hour prior to curtain in the Temple Lobby. Tickets may also be purchased online at

Six awkward yet entertaining tweens vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime disclose hilarious and touching stories as each one hopes to be the last speller standing when they hear the final “ding” of the bell.

The setting is a high school gym. Long time hostess Rona Lisa Peretti (played by Mattison Merritt) reminisces about her own spelling bee victory while making final preparations for the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Enter the contestants, last year’s champion, boy scout Chip Tolentino (played by Hunter Mruz), the very politically aware Schwarzy or Logainne Schwarzandgrubenniere (played by Desiree Bartels), Leaf Coneybear, the somewhat wide-eyed offspring of hippie parents (played by Shade Ingraham), the allergy ridden William Barfee (played by Nick Prior), Marcy Park, the over-achiever (played by Becca Hess), and the tentative newcomer Olive Ostrovsky (played by Abbie Austin). Rounding out the group is Vice Principal Douglas Panch (played by Luke C Glassman) and “Comfort Counselor” Mitch Mahoney (played by Chadwick Taylor).

The riotous ride of the competition begins complete with revelations, flashbacks and audience participation.

The production is directed and choreographed by guest Sean McKnight. Musical direction is by UNL Glenn Korff School of Music’s Jeffrey McCray. The production is designed by guest Todd Clark (lighting), Assistant Professor J D Madsen (scenery), and undergraduates Katherine Davis (costumes) and Lucas Dunwoody (sound). Stage Manager is undergraduate Stephanie Kahler.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" features music and lyrics by William Flynn, book by Rachel Sheinkin. It was conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss.

Guest Director
Sean McKnight made his NYC debut directing/choreographing Broadway Classics at Carnegie Hall. The sold-out concert starred Cheyenne Jackson and Carolee Carmello. His work Hot Mikado earned him Best Choreography nominations for both the LA Drama Critics Circle Award and the Ovation! Award. Other choreographic credits include: Dance Austria! - The Big Waltz at Lincoln Center, A Chocolate Avenue Christmas at the Hershey Lodge, Broadway Bares, Gypsy of the Year, Easter Bonnet, and Dance from the Heart. As an Associate Choreographer he has worked at Ford’s Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, Westchester Broadway Theatre, White Plains Performing Arts Center, Red Mountain Theatre Company and Seattle 5th Avenue Theatre. Mr. McKnight served as the co-associate director/choreographer to Kathleen Marshall on the NETworks Theatricals National Tour of Anything Goes. Most recently he choreographed the new Ansolo music video “To Life” featuring the band Too Many Zooz.

McKnight’s performance credits include the Broadway or National Tours of: Curtains, Merrily We Roll Along (new cast recording), Girl Crazy, Stairway to Paradise, Shrek the Musical, The Producers, 42nd Street, Cinderella starring Eartha Kitt, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Annie Get Your Gun (Tommy Keeler), A Christmas Story the Musical and Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour of Anything Goes. At the Kennedy Center he has had the privilege to perform in Ragtime, Carnival! And Mame!

He holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan and is currently on faculty at Pace University.

Guest Musical Director
Jeffrey McCray is Associate Professor of Bassoon at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he has taught since 2006. In addition to bassoon, McCray also teaches courses in music theory, aural skills, symphonic literature, and chamber music.  He performs with the Moran Woodwind Quintet, artists-in-residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  McCray is also the principal bassoonist of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, he is a member of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, and he is a frequent guest performer with the Omaha Symphony.  In addition, he is the music director for the Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Opera Scenes class, and he frequently leads wind sectionals with the UNL Symphony Orchestra.

An advocate of contemporary music, McCray has appeared as both bassoonist and conductor in concerts of contemporary music throughout the United States. His recording of M. William Karlins’ Four Inventions and a Fugue, for bassoon, piano, and female voice (on Hungaroton Records) received praise from numerous critics.  Recent performances of note include a performance of Dan Welcher’s The Wind Won’t Listen with the Grammy-nominated Chiara String Quartet and conducting a performance of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with his UNL colleagues.  He also conducted the North American premiere of Robert Owens’ opera, Culture! Culture! for UNL Opera.

As a seventh-grader, McCray placed high enough in his school and county spelling bees to advance to the Colorado State Spelling Bee.  He did not place.

Guest Lighting Designer
Todd Clark is a freelance Production Manager and Lighting Designer for the corporate and theatrical industries. Recent projects include Director of Production for the Chicago Dancing Festival; Stage Manager for Chicago Ideas Week: Production design for the PBS television special “First You Dream” airing Nov 20, 2015. He has won three “EMMY” Awards for Lighting the PBS dance documentaries “River North Rising”, ‘Every Dancer Has a Story” and “Getting There." He graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts.