An extended season at Southeast Missouri State University’s fourth annual River Campus Summer Arts Festival will bring three productions – “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Greater Tuna” and “Dear Edwina Jr.” – to its stages over two weeks in June.
“This summer’s shows are all about comedy,” said Rhonda Weller-Stilson, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts. “All three shows should be crowd pleasers. We anticipate nights of sell-out crowds, so get your tickets in advance.”
Performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” are slated for 7:30 p.m. June 15, 18, 20, 23 and 24 in the Wendy Kurka Rest Flexible Theatre at the Southeast River Campus. Tickets are $20.
“Dear Edwina Jr.” will be performed in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 18. Tickets to these performances are $12. Two free performances of “Dear Edwina Jr.” are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, as part of the River Campus Summer Arts Festival.
Performances of “Greater Tuna” are set for 7:30 p.m. June 16, 17, 21 and 22 and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 25, in the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre at the River Campus. Tickets are $20.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn, is a riotous and comedic musical revolving around six smart kids competing in a championship spelling bee. A delightful den of comedic genius and winner of the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Book, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” has charmed audiences across the country with its effortless wit and humor.
The show will be directed by Dr. Kenneth Stilson, chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, with musical direction by Joshua Harvey, production stage management by Ryan Jones, scene design by Jeffrey Luetkenhaus, guest costume design by James Miller and guest lighting design by Dean Packard.
While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, the tweens of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing, pout-inducing, life un-affirming “ding” of the bell that signals a spelling mistake.
“Putnam County is pure joy, and everyone from teens to older adults can relate to the anxieties and insecurities exhibited by the tweens in this competition,” said Dr. Kenneth Stilson. “The cast and I are having a blast creating these imaginative and precocious kids.”
Weller –Stilson said the show is complete with audience participation, making it an unforgettable experience.
“With the audience-participation element of the show, every performance will be distinctly different,” Dr. Kenn Stilson said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s also part of the fun in this musical.”
Dear Edwina Jr.
Also highlighting the summer season will be “Dear Edwina Jr.,” a musical with book and lyrics by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich, about a 13-year-old problem solver Edwina who dishes out advice with the help of her friends. The production will be directed by Hilary Peterson, along with Bailey Schnurbusch, musical director; Jenna Cummins, stage manager; and Jeniese Moyers, costume designer.
The cast consists of children from the community ages 10 to 15 who are registered for the “Dear Edwina Jr.” Workshop. They include Sam Bowen, Breanna Breeden, William Clippard, Janelle Fox, Cody Griggs, Sienna Hahn, Genevieve Heinley, Kate Hopper, Gio Mayfield-Wubbena, Connor McNew, Grace Petzoldt, Mary Richey, Hilary Riley, Yuliana Rust, Olivia Wilson, Lyn Wissmiller, Izzy Wissmiller and Stella Wright.
“We are very excited to once again work with our community’s young actors,” said Peterson. “They are good students and talented actors, singers and dancers. They are extremely focused and work just as hard as professional actors to memorize their lines, songs and choreography. They bring a lot of joy and excitement to the process.”
“Dear Edwina Jr. is a musical for families and kids of all ages,” said Weller-Stilson. “There is much great music, and, because Hilary is not only a director, but also a choreographer, there will be lots of movement as well.”
Peterson added, “‘Dear Edwina Jr.’ is a fun show that highlights pre-teen personalities and their typical worries. It is a show that teaches girls specifically that winning a prize is not the most important thing in life, but having loving friends and family is. ‘Dear Edwina’ is funny, energetic and heart-warming, and will leave the audience feeling good.”
This summer’s season also features “Greater Tuna,” a southern comedy by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, about the hilarious citizens of Tuna, Texas, the third smallest town in Texas. The show will be directed by Michael McIntosh, assistant professor with The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance.
“This is an extremely hysterical show where two men play over 20 roles from young girls to senior citizens,” Weller-Stilson said. “It’s crazy backstage with all the costume and wig changes, but this adds to the humor.”
The production casts Bart Williams, assistant professor of acting and stage combat at Southeast, and Kyle VanPool, a 2010 Southeast graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre, joined by Ryan Jones, production stage management; Jeffrey Luetkenhaus, scene designer; Deana Luetkenhaus, costume designer; and Dean Packard, lighting designer.
Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by calling (573) 651-2265 or by visiting RiverCampus.org.