In a year where many artistic performances were still confined to virtual experiences, the Canterbury Theater Department was able to produce a live, safe, and fantastic musical to the delight of the community.
The Canterbury spring musical is a highlight of the academic year, with terrific student performances and always-entertaining guest cameos. Last year’s highly anticipated production of Chicago was unfortunately put on hold due to the pandemic, but this year’s performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was well worth the long wait to see our students back on stage. “With the go-ahead from the School’s Medical Task Force, we chose a show that would allow us to have an audience and give our actors a wonderful experience of being back in live theater,” said Co-Director and Chair of the Language Department Keiko Mathewson.
Typically, the Theater Department obtains rights to the show chosen for the spring musical before January and begins their rehearsals as soon as students return from winter break in early January. This year, because of a later in-person start to accommodate safety precautions around holiday travel, rehearsals began in mid-February, giving the cast and crew only nine weeks to put up the show. Coupled with the fact that the group always rehearsed in masks, the production had its share of obstacles. Keiko explained, “Singing with a mask is nothing like singing without one! Not to mention, theater is all about expression—when you can only see one-third of an actor's face, it creates challenges.” But one would never know it—everything from the songs and choreography to the acting and costumes, to the set design, lighting, and sound was perfectly thought-out and executed.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee follows six high school-age contestants as they compete for the title of County Spelling Bee Champion and the three adults in charge of running and judging the competition. Some Saints took the stage for the very first time, and others for their last time as Canterbury students. The top-notch cast included Yurou Li ’21 as speller Marcy Park; Torin Kearney ’21 as Vice Principal Douglas Panch; Irene Chen ’24 as parolee and “Comfort Counselor” Mitch Mahoney; Ruari Bamrick ’24 as moderator Rona Lisa Peretti; Bryce Stone ’23 as speller Chip Tolentino; Sylvia Pinheiro ’24 as speller Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre; Beckett Reynolds ’23 as Leaf Coneybear (and his spelling sock puppet); Ava Faruol ’24 as speller Olive Ostrovsky; Qixiu (Neil) Yao ’22 as speller William Barfée (that’s bar-FAY); and Jerry Liu ’22 as Logainne’s dad. Director of Theater Sarah Armstong and Keiko Mathewson served as Co-Directors, with Musical Direction by Christopher Scott Rich, Sound Design by Ken Mard III ’99, and Lighting Design by Robyn Joyce.
The quirky contestants compete in spelling myriad words (some potentially made-up) while sharing humorous personal anecdotes, and the three adults keep the audience entertained with hilarious definitions and examples of the words used in sentences. An added dose of humor comes in the form of audience members who are called up on stage to participate in the spelling bee, and a surprise guest appearance by Jesus, played by none other than Assistant Head of School for Student Life Peter LaVigne P ʼ14, ʼ16, ʼ17, ʼ20, ʼ23. The show was a smash and brought such joy and laughter to campus as students, faculty, and staff enjoyed the first live theater performance in over a year.
The cast and crew relished in the experience as well. This was Sixth Form student Yurou’s third time taking part in a musical (she performed in Sweeney Todd and rehearsed for Chicago). She described her character Marcy as “a talented, studious young lady who is always trying to live up to others' expectations. Admittedly she is the best speller among them, but she is not happy and does not take pleasure from winning.” Yurou continued, “Portraying Marcy was a fun challenge for me, as I was given the chance to reflect on my similarities and differences compared to hers, and I believe that at the end of the whole process, a part of Marcy's happiness and freedom is already staying with me.”
This was the first musical performance for Sixth Form student Torin whose spot-on, deadpan portrayal of Vice Principal Douglas Panch and his ridiculous usage of spelling words elicited many laughs. “The most challenging part [of the musical] was to get the reactions and facial expressions down in order to bring my character to life. It was my first time performing in a musical, and I very much enjoyed it.” Based on his performance, we sincerely hope it’s not his last!
With 23 musical numbers and a live orchestra, achieving spectacular lighting and sound was no small feat. To boot, the entire operation is managed exclusively by students during the show. Keiko explained, “I don't think many people know that the show becomes entirely student-run during Tech Week (the rehearsals leading up to performances). Once our designers have put finishing touches onto things, everything is handed over to students to execute. Our booth, where the stage manager, light and sound board operators work, is entirely students—there are no adults overseeing them. The students call the show and execute it themselves. It is a huge undertaking, and we are blessed to have dedicated and talented students who manage it all.” The technical crew included Stage Manager Giselle Bradshaw ’21, Associate Lighting Designer and Light Board Operator Daniella Suarez ’21; Associate Sound Designer and Sound Board Operator Sydney Ragland ’21; Costume Designer Katherine Delamere ’21; Prop Mistress Celine Yoo ’21; and Follow Spot Operator and Electrician Xavier Leone ’23.
Stage Manager Giselle ’21 shared her thoughts about her final stage production at Canterbury: “This was my first time managing tech for a musical, and it was definitely an experience where I had to learn as I went along. I reached out to the Stage Managers before me [Canterbury alumni], and they were a big help. I am extremely proud of the tech crew for nailing every light and sound cue and each costume change. I really couldn’t have done it without them.” She continued, “The most fun part of the show was being in the booth and backstage with all my crew members and the cast members, especially my fellow seniors. It was our last show at Canterbury and I think we made it a memorable one.”
To be sure, this performance will not soon be forgotten. Yurou ’21 shared, “I’d like to give a huge shout-out to our directors Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. Mathewson, and our Music Director Christopher Scott Rich for being so amazing and supportive throughout the whole show! Thank you for making my senior finale a memorable experience.”
Well done to the entire cast and crew for a phenomenal performance!