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25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Your Word Is.....

The Spelling Bee is in session! This year Nutley High School has the ability to have an in person, musical. This was the first musical since Rock Of Ages in 2020, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doors are beginning to re-open for the NHS theater  department, as they are slowly making their way back to the stage.  Director Rebecca Polynice was ready to return in person this year, and the students brought energy and excitement to the opportunity.


Ms. Polynice wrapped her brain around a musical idea and after some time to think, she later stumbled upon “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” A comedic musical involving six kids who all compete against one another to win the spelling bee. Each of the spellers stories are shown, and many have different reasons to be competing. Each speller  must spell the word correctly in order to stay in the competition, the last speller standing wins. 


When asked why she chose the musical Ms. Polynice stated "I chose this musical for a few reasons. The first was because I love this show. It's quirky, funny, and pulls at your heart strings all in an hour and forty minutes! The second reason was because it's a good size show to do in the middle of a pandemic. We were able to double cast most roles so that many students can be involved as possible, which was a concern earlier in the year." 


The musical runs an hour and forty minutes long, and throughout it there are special appearances by Jesus, and Comfort Counselors who try and console the spellers when eliminated. 


This show also offers something different. Ms. Polynice will be having some audience members taking the stage to participate as spellers. This is something new for NHS, because normally only the cast is solely on stage. “This is definitely something new for NHS, I have done the shows since freshman year, and we have never had anything like it,” Ilana Robbins, an ensemble member explained. 


A meeting was held for anyone interested in participating, or anyone who wanted more information. Many students attended, from all different grades. 


After the students were informed what the musical was this year, Ms. Polynice and the two other assistant directors Ms. Miller who is also the  choreographer  and Ms. Rizzo  who is also the vocal director all  began running auditions to see who would fit each part best. After everyone finished, call backs for certain rolls were sent out. A few days later a deliberation was held, and a decision was made.


The cast was split, one being the Maroon cast and the other the Gray cast. This was due to the musical not having enough parts for the large influx of students participating.  The casts switch each night the musical debuts. The first  night is the maroon cast, the second night is the gray cast, and  they continue that for the following two nights. 


Some students' roles are double casted. In the Maroon cast one student plays  a character, then the Gray cast a different student  plays that character. While other students are the same character in both casts. 


Each student was pleased with their roll, and then shortly after the rehearsals began.  Ashlyn Kurtzmann who plays Olive’s mom explains “I love the role I received this year. This kicked off my last senior year show amazing.” 


The students attend rehearsals after school ranging from  3 p.m to 5 p.m daily. During February break rehearsals began from 9 a.m  until 3 p.m. After break the rehearsals started to ramp up going from 3 p.m  to 8 p.m. Ilana Robbins stated “The rehearsals are very stressful, we leave here very tired, but it's all worth it.” The musical will be debuting on March 10 through March 13th. Tickets were sold at the doors, for $15 a piece. 


Throughout this experience there have been multiple ups and downs. With some struggles and rewards. Ms. Miller  states “The pandemic has definitely been our biggest struggle. From mask mandates, to figuring out the rehearsal schedule and having to get tested, it has been difficult at times.” The COVID-19 pandemic has still been affecting the theater department, although the cast and directors hope that things will continue to get better as time goes on. 


The pandemic was difficult for the theatre department, but not something they could not handle.  "The hardest part about planning for this show was the uncertainty of covid guidelines/protocols. The district and NJ Arts were really good about getting information to us, but we still had to keep an eye on what was what. Up until March 1 we weren't even sure how many tickets we could sell! The students were really flexible and understanding about following all the guidelines, which made things easier for us." Ms. Polynice stated 


Another struggle that was faced has been the double cast. This is due to the fact that the students have to work doubly hard on all acts, dances, and lines throughout the musical. 


Although there have been many struggles, with those struggles rewards have been occurring. Ms. Rizzo and Ms. Miller explained “It's all worth it, the individuality these kids show while performing is very much so appreciated. Individuality is not something you can teach, and throughout this musical their personalities shine through.” The students have the ability to add in some of their own personal quirks or ideas into their character, while still staying true to the character's personality.


When asked what the most rewarding part of this musical was Ms. Polynice had this to say "That's a tough question because I can't pick just one thing. If I have to choose, I'd say getting to see the students grow and push their comfort limits in their performance has been the greatest reward. They have worked so hard and it has been refreshing to see them so happy and doing what they love. I have also really enjoyed working with our new team of directors, Mrs. Miller, Miss Rizzo, and Olivia Grzywinski." 


All three of the directors, producer Olivia Grzywinski, and the cast  have been eagerly working on the musical, and are overjoyed to be back on stage doing what they love the most. The work that goes into these shows is strategic, and the time and effort is clearly shown through the production. The NHS theater department fought hard, and did not let the pandemic get in the way of coming back to the stage. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” can be watched in person at NHS or online on the NHS Thespian Youtube channel.