Following a three-year absence, the student-directed musical returns to Thursday night with the premiere of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The Tony Award-winning musical comedy is directed by senior Matt Oster.
As president of the drama club, Oster petitioned for the tradition of a student-directed musical to return to Agoura High. "Every year we do a murder mystery," said Oster. "We haven't done a student-directed musical since my freshman year."
In order to move forward, Oster needed to find a student adviser and search for a show that wouldn't break the bank of the student-run club. The production is an easy one to mount in terms of production value as the set is minimalistic—including a flag, contestant seating, judges table and spelling bee sign–allowing for the focus to be on the characters, said Oster.
On the heels of the fall drama, All My Sons, Oster and his cast and crew had fewer than four weeks to prepare for the production.
"We put on this musical in such a short period of time … and it's brilliant," he said.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee chronicles the tales of six awkward middle-schoolers vying to be crowned the spelling bee champion. Through clever songs and witty dialogue, these overachievers ultimately learn that "winning isn't everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser,” said Oster.
"The story is about these kids who are outsiders and who have all these different influences, but their true love is spelling," said Oster. "I couldn't ask for a better show."
The advantage to putting on an all-student-run production, according to Oster, is that outside influences are minimized. In addition to his directing duties, Oster also plays delinquent comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, a character that helps losing constants cope by throwing juice boxes at them.
Junior Alexandra Goldmann plays Olive Ostrovsky, whose absentee parents don't give her the entrance fee for the spelling bee. "The show has been fun, because you are with all your friends,” she said. “It's nice because I got to do this with people that I love."
The production also features a three-piece band led by musical director Cheryl Gaul, a senior, who enjoyed the collaborative nature of the production. "It's been amazing,” she said. “I've done other musicals here, but it's fun to be in charge. It's fun to come together. Everybody knows each other; we know what makes each other tick. Sometimes adults don't know what really motivates us, but as kids, we know exactly," she said.
Oster said that directing has proven to be an interesting experience. "It's weird being on the other side of it all and being able to put your own spin on things,” he said. “The hardest part has been trying to conceptualize that vision and showing the other actors what I'm trying to see to make it all flow together."
Goldmann has nothing but praise for her director. "Matt is a very good director because he knew how to keep us in line and he really knew what he was doing. It's been a joy working under him, especially since he is my friend. We all love him,” she said.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, in the G Building at Agoura High School, 28545 W. Driver Ave., Agoura Hills. Performances Thursday through Saturday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; show time is 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 with ASB and $13 without. Tickets can be purchased at the Attendance Office or at the door.