Sondheim Meets Saturday Morning Cartoons in ‘Putnam County’

Of Director Kristin Wolanin’s myriad strengths, enthusiasm containment doesn’t rank toward the top.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, where the show is literally different every time, so the people who come to the Thursday night performance can come to the Friday night performance and come away with two unique experiences.

“It’s just such a fun show to do!” Wolanin said.

The curtain rises on the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door.

“Putnam County” tells the story of six Middle Schoolers negotiating the minefield of adolescence and home-life baggage while keeping their eyes on the spelling bee prize. Running the bee are two adults whose shared history doesn’t stay in the past and one who hands out juice boxes to losing spellers in his role as “Official Comfort Counselor.” And, making a brief but meaningful cameo, is Jesus Christ.

“This has been freeing for the cast to go back to their Middle School roots,” said Wolanin. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery, a lot of personal growth and a lot of coming out of shells.”

The pushing themselves that Wolanin described happened both on and off the stage. Senior Clare J.had never sung on stage before. In the booth, Alex A. ’17 and Justin K. ’20 are in charge of sound and lights, respectively, both for the first time.

Like the troupe’s last play, “Almost, Maine,” this show features an ensemble of major characters rather than a protagonist or co-leads. This time around, there are nine principals and they all sing.

The New York Times described the songs as suggesting “a Saturday morning television cartoon set to music by Stephen Sondheim,” a characterization Wolanin agreed with.

“What these songs have in common with Sondheim’s is that from the outside, on first listen, they sound simple, but once you go in and spend some time with them you recognize how difficult they actually are.”

For this show, Heather Woodbridge is reprising her role as music director and Wolanin’s consigliere.

“Working with Heather is just so awesome,” Wolanin said. “There’s a mutual respect there and we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m so grateful to work with her.”

“The show is a glimpse into Middle School life,” Wolanin said. “For how funny it is, it’s also serious and real.”


“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door. Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin.

A Week in the Life — Vol. 7

It’s been a week of celebration at the Day School, and this edition features highlights from Chinese New Year, Balloon Day, Valentine’s parties and the Ice Festival. This post’s featured image was taken by senior Cristian T. It’s a tight shot of artwork made for the Chinese New Year Festival, and Cristian is responsible for all the striking images from that event included here. Photos from the Ice Festival and additional contributions to the Balloon Day coverage courtesy of Lauren. N. ’19 and Carly C. ’19.

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A Week in the Life — Vol. 6

 

LCDS 8th Graders Advance to LNP Bee

With strong performances over two days and against a dozen competitors, Hana H. and Gavin W. finished first and second respectively in Lancaster Country Day School’s Middle School Spelling Bee. With their top showings, both Hana and Gavin advance to the semifinals of the 60th LNP Spelling Bee, working toward a spot in the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee May 29 in Washington, D.C.

The semis consist of a 100-word written test. Those sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who prevail move on to the finals, where the best spellers in Lancaster County will spell their hearts out for a spot on the big stage, Feb. 21 at Gerald G. Huesken Middle School in Conestoga Valley. In the final round at Country Day Feb. 2, Gavin put an “a” after the “e” in “celiac,” while Hana sealed the deal by nailing “tuberculosis.”

A Week in the Life

Featuring construction of a giant dragon for the Chinese New Year celebration, highlights from the STEM Showcase and prolific children’s musician Steven Courtney serenading Lower School audiences, this edition of A Week in the Life is guaranteed delightful or double your money back.

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‘Almost, Maine’ Almost Here

“People in the audience will go, ‘Oh my God, that’s my life.’ Part of the reason I love this play so much is that it’s just real life. These scenes can happen and people will be able to relate to it.”

For her latest production, director Kristin Wolanin chose John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine,” a play that has resonated deeply with her from the first time she saw it.

“It was just a story of love. The difference with this one, what sets it apart for me, is that what happens in the play can actually happen in real life.”

Wolanin isn’t the only one bitten by the “Almost, Maine” bug. According to Playbill, it’s been the most produced play in North American high schools twice since its 2004 debut.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 2-4, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $5 in advance and $7 at the door.

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“Of everything we’ve done since I started, this play has been the most challenging one for the actors,” Wolanin said. “There’s nothing for them to hide behind. Other shows had lots of farce or iambic pentameter or something else that interposed itself between the actors’ real lives and their performances and allowed them to do a great show without necessarily revealing all of themselves.

“This is asking them to just be real. That’s the greatest challenge for any actor and it’s been hard for them,” Wolanin said. “I approach directing from an actor’s perspective. I’ve walked in their shoes. I can talk to them as an actor and I don’t ask them to do anything I couldn’t do myself.”

“Almost, Maine” is a romantic comedy that consists of 11 short scenes that all take place the same night in Maine, under the Northern Lights. One consequence of eschewing the traditional three act structure for 11 scenes that are both interconnected yet discrete, is that the play features more than a dozen “main” characters.

To meet this challenge — while meeting and exceeding the company’s own high standards — Wolanin called upon the largest cast and crew in recent Country Day history, if not ever: 47 students, from sixth-12th grade. This group includes 14 actors, five of whom have never appeared in one of the large, semiannual theater productions, and a sixth who’ll be speaking his first lines in front of an audience at Thursday’s premiere.

Everyone in Wolanin’s theater gang has to pull double duty: Every actor takes a turn bringing a show to life from backstage or the lighting booth and every crew member eventually struts and frets his hour upon the stage at least once. (Hopefully with minimal fretting.)

“If you’re in the company, you’re in the cast and the crew. Everything we do is about always presenting audiences with quality work, and I think it makes actors better if they have an appreciation for what’s going on offstage. I also love having a big enough company to give every student a chance to be on stage,” Wolanin said.


“Almost, Maine” Cast & Crew

Cast

PETE — Tristan H.
GINETTE, GAYLE — Clare J.
EAST, RANDY — Sam D.
GLORY — Kendall K.
JIMMY — Alex A.
SANDRINE, RHONDA — Delphi A.
WAITRESS — Sadi S.
MARVALYN, HOPE — Malia C.
STEVE — Theo Z.
LENDALL — Thomas W.
CHAD, DAVE — David W.
PHIL — Christopher M.
MARCI — Courtney C.

Crew

Director: Kristin Wolanin
Production Stage Manager: Kylie D.
Deck Carpenter and RUN: Tessa B.
Sound Designer and RUN: Justin K.
Props Master and RUN: Linnea W.
Props Crew: Mira H., Ryan M., Noah S., Larry L. and Lora S.
Props Run Crew: Mira H. and Noah S.
Set Crew/Stage Crew: Sophia H., Tessa B., Maria H., Janani I., and Laurel M.
Publicity Chief: Danny K.-B.
Publicity Crew: Piper S., Ben K., Jay N., and Gaby N.
Costume Mistresses and RUN: Katrina F.
Costume Crew: Julia N., Sophie M., Julia B., Paityn N., Adrian W. and Sarah H.
Costume Run: Julia B., Adrian W. and Julia N.
Master Electrician and RUN: Hayden F.
Box Office Managers: Amelia L. and Mae B.
Box Office Assistant: Tess M. and Maddie B.
House Manager: William H.
Ushers: Ryan M., Paityn N., Tess M., Piper S., Lora S., Ben K., Larry L. and Jay N.