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Hall Students Sing and Dance in Long-Awaited Musical Performance of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the '25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s Hall High School Performing Arts Department will debut the first musical in decades when ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ opens on Oct. 28, 2021.

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

The stage is coming alive with something new and different at West Hartford’s Hall High School, and it’s not just because the community is emerging from the past 20 months of being under a COVID-19 cloud.

Not only is live theater returning to the Hall stage, but it’s musical theater – something that has not been performed at the school in decades, perhaps 40 or more years, Theatre Director Spencer Bazzano said.

While one might think “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – a modern and lively comedy with a relatively small ensemble cast of quirky characters taking part in a spelling bee – is the perfect type of post-COVID show, the musical was actually chosen, and had even been cast, before the pandemic hit in 2020.

Lauren Shilansky (left) as Rona Lisa Peretti and Sebastien Brand as Chip Tolentino. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Bazzano, who has been the technical director and a stagecraft teacher at Hall for several years, has assumed the overall theatre director role this year. His predecessor, Hunter Parker, moved across town to Conard High School following the retirement of Corinne Kravetz there.

“We actually planned this two years ago, but then COVID hit,” Bazzano said. When he took over the full program, he was asked if he could direct a musical. He jumped at the chance, and wanting to do something fun and light-hearted he thought that moving ahead with “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee” made sense.

For as long as people in West Hartford can remember, Conard has been known as the musical theater school – performing a large musical each spring – while Hall students focused on their highly-acclaimed signature annual musical performance of Pops “N Jazz.

With a pit band of students, this show combines all of Hall’s performing arts disciplines except strings, Bazzano said.

“They have been ecstatic,” Bazzano said of the students involved in the show. While some have been involved in the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival or other musical theater performing groups, this is the first time they’ve had a chance to be in a musical at Hall.

“The amount of support and enthusiasm is really amazing,” Bazzano said.

Eva Sanchez-Navitsky plays Marcy Park. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“I always wanted to be in a musical,” said Eva Sanchez-Navitsky, a senior who plays the role of Marcy Park.

Sanchez-Navitsky is a veteran of Hall’s Pops ‘N Jazz, but had never even tried theater at Hall until this show was announced.

Choir Director Brett Boles “is very into musical theater and advocated for this to happen,” Sanchez-Navitzky said.

Students have been rehearsing in regular face masks, but for the performances will be wearing clear face shields, which is approved by the state’s Department of Public Health. Bazzano said guidance actually permits solo singers, even in schools, to remove their masks if they step away from other performers, but they have decided not to do that at Hall.

“We will see mouths moving, and facial expressions,” Sanchez-Navitzky said, which will add a new dimension to the interactions of the actors. She said rehearsing with masks has made them rely more on their bodies as well as their voices for expression.

Sanchez-Navitsky said her character – who is dressed in the uniform of a parochial school student – is a lot of fun to portray. “Even though I look boring I do cartwheels on stage. I’m good at everything.” She was able to do a cartwheel before the show began, but had to amp up her flexibility since Marcy Park does a split on stage.

Sebastien Brand plays Chip Tolentino. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Senior Sebastien Brand is a veteran of Hall’s stage and a member of Choraliers who has performed in Pops ‘N Jazz. “This is my first time doing musical theater, merging the two,” he said.

“We have a strong acting department, and a strong music department, and I think it’s great to be able to do both,” he said, like joining the disciplines together in a Venn diagram. “I think it’s really fun.”

Brand plays Chip Tolentino, who appears in the show dressed as a Boy Scout. He’s not personally a scout, Brand said, so he borrowed “a hodgepodge of other people’s Boy Scout stuff.” At the same time he’s worked hard to make the character more than just a Boy Scout.

“It’s harder than singing normally, but because it’s been a year-and-a-half, almost two years, you get used to it,” Brand said, but he was looking forward to transitioning from wearing a mask to a face shield. The choreography involves him running around with other people on his back, and wearing a mask makes that a lot harder, he said.

Julia Savo plays Leaf Coneybear. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Julia Savo is a sophomore, and plays the “very chaotic and colorful” Leaf Coneybear.

“I love my character. He’s not as smart as everyone else but he’s very positive and likes everyone,” Savo said.

As a freshman she performed in plays at Hall, and was in musicals when she was a student at King Philip Middle School. She’s also a member of Hall’s Concert Choir.

Practicing in masks has added challenge, “but it can help us find other ways to show our characters,” Savo said.

Performances are at 7 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 28-30. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Oct. 30. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, and can be purchased here. All seating is reserved and separated by pods with seats between groups. Hall’s auditorium seats 700, and capacity will be roughly half that, Bazzano said.

August Kittleson, as William Barfee, spells a word with his “magic foot.” Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”:

RONA LISA PERETTI: Lauren Shilansky

DOUGLAS PANCH: Ben Spaeth

CHIP TOLENTINO: Sebastien Brand

LOGAINNE SCHWARTZANDGRUNIERRE (SCHWARTZY): Leah Zirolli

LEAF CONEYBEAR: Julia Savo

WILLIAM BARFÉE: August Kittleson

MARCY PARK: Eva Sanchez-Navitsky

OLIVE OSTROVSKY: Avery Woods Weber

MITCH MAHONEY: Grace Furia

OLIVE’S DAD: Mauricio Vega

Ensemble

  • Katherine Tsang
  • Summer Neiditz
  • Katherine Devlin
  • Liam Ennis

Orchestra

  • Percussion: Jenny Zhao
  • Drums: Jeremy Baun
  • Alto Sax: Abby Posner
  • Clarinet: Lily Silverman
  • Flute: Nora Grady

Julia Sevo (left) plays Leaf Coneybear, pictured with Lauren Shilansky as Rona Lisa Peretti. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Lauren Shilansky reminisces about her own victory in the 3rd Putnam County Spelling Bee. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ben Spaeth as Douglas Panch and Lauren Shilansky as Rona Lisa Peretti. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Grace Furia, as Mitch Mahoney, dismisses a speller who got a word wrong. Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

August Kittleson, as William Barfee, spells a word with his “magic foot.” Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hall High School Performing Arts students rehearse for the ’25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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