Students spell out a musical

Published 9:58 am Friday, February 11, 2011

The cast of the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” rehearses for performances March 3-5. From left are Ja’Shonda Elliott, Dallas Banks, Roy Boyd, Hannah Kreider, Taylor Christy, Timothy Kreider, Andrea Batten, Tabbitha Bruck, Grace Cummins, Grace Kreider and Katie Conner. The performances will be held at 7 p.m. at Franklin High School.


FRANKLIN—Learning to spell need not be a chore. It can be exciting, a little nerve-racking and even musical.

Showing how that’s done are the cast and crew of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which will be presented at 7 p.m. March 3-5 at Franklin High School.

To direct the Tony Award-winning production locally is a labor of love for Ken Raybuck, who’s an enthusiastic veteran of directing and performing for the stage.

“I kind of backed into the project,” said Raybuck, who taught English, speech and drama for 28 years at the school. For the past five years, he’s been the coordinator of testing for Franklin City Schools.

After a lengthy dry spell, another popular musical, “Grease,” was presented last year thanks to the enthusiasm of a teacher, Megan Citeroni. Though she left this past autumn, the students’ interest remained and needed another outlet on stage. So, “the principal asked me,” said Raybuck. “I’m excited about the opportunity.”

“Spelling Bee” was the choice among shows that included “Seussical the Musical” and “Godspell.” The flexibility for casting of students made “Spelling Bee” the best choice,” he said.

All but one of the cast members comes from Franklin High, with the other from J.P. King Middle School.

The story is about six “overachievers” and the pressures and love of spelling they experience in competition.

“It’s very much a comedy, but with lots of different layers,” said Raybuck.

One of those levels will feature participation by audience members called to the stage.

“I’m delighted with rehearsals,” added the director. “It’s such a joy for me to work with a group of kids this dedicated and enthusiastic. I don’t use this word lightly, but it’s a blessing for me on many levels. I’m back in touch with drama, which I love, and back in touch with the high school students.”

Raybuck acknowledged that there have been times in directing past plays when he’s gone in tired. But the students’ enthusiasm re-energizes him. “I really enjoy being a part of that. Hopefully, we’ll build something for the future.”

All this does not come cheaply. The director explained there’s a royalty cost of $150 per production, and script and musical score rentals costing $1,400, and another $850 for use of recorded music. In all, the cost will be from $3,500 to $4,000.

Last year, the Little Theater of Franklin donated $5,000 for “Grease,” and some leftover funds serve as seed money this time. Another source, said Raybuck, is the high school’s 21st Century Community Learning Center’s Grant.

The director is well versed in stagecraft. For a while, he had drama students put on 10-minute plays for a mere 25 cents per person during lunch breaks. The performers were called “The 2-Bit Players.”

Raybuck himself got interested in theater during his college days, performing “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.”

“I got the bug hard,” he said. So much so that after graduating he went back to earn a speech and drama degree.

Student tickets cost $2 in advance, $3 at the door; adult prices are $4 and $5, respectively. Tickets can be bought at the school, 310 Crescent Drive, or Fred’s Restaurant, 107 S. Main St.