Cranston East voices sparkle in ‘Spelling Bee’

Posted 5/10/22


For the past three months, Cranston East students have eagerly awaited the opportunity to perform the musical comedy "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" for a live …

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Cranston East voices sparkle in ‘Spelling Bee’



For the past three months, Cranston East students have eagerly awaited the opportunity to perform the musical comedy "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" for a live audience. On May 6 and 7, that chance finally came.

Written by William Finn, “The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” tells the story of quirky adolescents who are competing in a local town spelling bee that is run by three equally quirky adults. The tale celebrates/normalizes not fitting in while the youths try to find their way in the world.

Cranston East senior Christina Gomes, who played Rona Lisa Peretti, said each character is an archetype with an exaggerated personality. Peretti is the bee’s returning moderator and Gomes said her character has hosted the spelling bee for nine years and – even though she won once a long time ago – thinks the event is all about her.

Gomes jokingly said she was type-casted for the part since she and her character had large personalities. She said Assistant Principal Kaitlin Hitchings (who directed the play) walked into her chorus class and said ‘I need someone with a big personality.’ Gomes stood up not knowing what it was for and Hitchings auditioned her for the part of Peretti.

Overall, the musical is simply one moment in time where everyone comes together to share the simple love of spelling and learning.

One aspect that’s unique to the musical is there is no lead character.

“The spellers are all leads in the musical and have equal importance to the show,” said Nathan Scarborough, who plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch.

Panch, who’s the word pronouncer for the spelling bee, gives contestants the definition and use of the word in the sentence. He is infatuated with Peretti who does not return the affections.

Hitchings said she chose the musical because there wasn’t a lead character. Since this was the first musical the school has done in a long time and Cranston East had so many kids with talent, she felt an ensemble piece was a more appropriate fit and allowed a group of kids to shine.

The musical’s set up allows audience members to follow all the characters through their journeys and root for the person they want to win the bee; Gomes noted that this made the plot more organic and genuine.

Hitchings said Gomes and Scarborough have uniquely challenging roles because the musical includes audience participation and bringing members of the public on stage to compete in the bee alongside the characters. While there are benchmarks within the script to follow, Gomes and Scarborough had to adapt and be quick-witted with their responses to the non-scripted contestants.

Some of the musical’s quirky characters include Olive Ostrovsky (played by Danisha Smith) and Leaf Coneybear (played by Theo Pfeiffer). Smith described her character as a shy girl who’s best friend is her dictionary. While she’s quirky and shy, she also has her dark moments. Pfeiffer said his character is a homeschooled kid who struggles with his own intelligence, is easily distractible and makes his own clothes.

The cast had been practicing for the musical two or three times a week for the past three and a half months. The students said after all this time, there are still moments that have them laughing – proving how funny of a musical it is.

One of the parts the cast enjoyed was every time a contestant spelled a word wrong, they sang a little “goodbye” reprise.

Hitchings said the cast squished six months of putting on a play into three months. The students pushed each other and learned the music on their own through cast recording tracks and YouTube videos.

Hitchings said the idea for putting on a musical came about when Cranston Public Schools received the second round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding and were asking student interest groups how they would like to see the funds used. The money could be used to increase student participation and one big response was the desire to put on a musical which ended up attracting a variety of students. Gomes said at the first table reading, Hitchings said she hoped everyone involved would become friends.

“Oddly enough, I didn’t expect it but we did,” Gomes said.

Hitchings said there wasn’t much that had to be done in terms of props and costumes which allowed for more time to invest in the students. In total, the cost was $4,000 for the license to perform and the musical tracks.

“Nothing brings me more joy than seeing kids do what they love,” said Hitchings.

The cast of characters include Christina Gomes, Bobby Miller, Eleanna Mendes, Theo Pfeiffer, Connor Pyne, Morgan Robertson, Danisha Smith, Nathan Scarborough, Rachel Castillo, Djuvens Belaire, Chanelis Acevedo Sanchez, Ta’Layla Cole, Nina Houle, Alexis Kelshaw and Yeimi Vaquerano. The technical crew included Layla Melino, Alyssa Short, Hazel Spahn, Jennifer Vo, Dante Aceto, Raymond Carmadello, Jared Kue and Joseph Sullivan.


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