M-S 'Spelling Bee' dazzles with whirlwind 24-hour rehearsal

With the crowd's roar of laughter cheering them on, the sleep-deprived, 17-member Mahomet-Seymour High School cast regained its energy to complete its first-ever 24-hour musical performance.

"There's a lot of chaos," sophomore hair crew and set crew member Layne Brock said. "But overall, it's fun."

Preparation for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a 90-minute performance, proved to be a difficult, but rewarding, task for director Nicole Kuglich. The cast, crew and directors rehearsed from 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5 all the way to the group's 7 p.m. performance on Saturday, Jan. 6. The event was a fundraiser for the music department.

"It was very chaotic at moments," Kuglich said. "Overall, students really grasped their characters and their hearts were there. The high level of humor overshadowed the chaos of the show."

The musical featured a unique cast of characters competing in an area spelling bee. The performance included witty one-liners in the form of word definitions and word uses from spelling bee judges Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Gabie Smith, and Vice Principal Panch, played by Wyatt Taber.

"I let the kids have an hour and a half to get out of the school for a bit, but Gabie didn't leave; instead, she brainstormed all of those one-liners," Kuglich said. "She and her friend wrote all of those before the show. That really stood out to me, and I thought, 'How do you have the energy to do that?'"

For junior Corey Cebulski, the whirlwind experience provided an opportunity to take part in a musical performance.

"Between soccer in the fall and track in the spring, I haven't really had time to seize the opportunity to be in a musical," Cebulski said. "I wanted to find a different way to express myself on stage."

Cebulski played the crowd-pleasing comedic role of Jesus. Once the students found out Cebulski was cast as Jesus, Kuglich said the kids "lost it."

"I loved telling the kids the casting and announcing who everyone was," Kuglich said. "When I announced that Cory was going to play Jesus, they (the students) were hysterical. The audience really responded when Jesus came on stage, too; it was amazing."

Cebulski said his favorite memory of the 24-hour musical was simply forgetting his lines.

"After sitting in a chair for over two hours watching everyone else, it was finally time for my part," Cebulski said. "After all of that time, I got up there and completely messed it up."

The junior cherished the experience and found the stage to be a rewarding place.

"I like using personal experiences on stage to bring out the character's personality traits," Brock said. "I want to make people happy and show them that our problems are only as big as we make them out to be."

Kuglich said her favorite memory of the event was simply seeing the students sink into their characters and improve with the warmth of the audience's reception.

"The young man that played Leaf Coneybear (Grant Brown) sang his song so much better with the crowd," Kuglich said. "I saw that glimmer in him. When a student can do that, you're so proud of that ability."

Key players behind the scenes were individuals such as Haley Knauff, a freshman, who assisted the hair crew. Though this was her first time helping out with an M-S musical performance, Knauff said she enjoyed the opportunity.

"I liked the crowd of people (involved with the musical performance)," Knauff said. "I realized I wanted to be friends with the people in the group."

Parents Rhonda and Jeff McElroy said their son, Cole, worked on the business crew and also plays saxophone in the marching band.

"Cole had a lot of fun last night and early this morning," Rhonda McElroy said before the evening's performance.

M-S clarinet player Kaitlyn Chalfant, a senior, assisted with ticket sales prior to Saturday's performance. She was ready to quickly lend a hand to the music department, where she has enjoyed playing in the band since fifth grade.

"I enjoy meeting people through it (band)," Chalfant added.

Lighting crew member Jason Webb, a senior, said over the course of four years, he has helped with nearly 10 music-related events.

"I don't really like technology," Webb joked. "I just wanted to make friends."

Webb's mother, Amy, who helped with the event's concession stand, said the lighting crew has become a huge part of her son's life.

"Groups like this you never realized could play such a huge role in your child's life," Amy Webb said.

Though the event was stressful to prepare, senior Sydnie Walsh, who played Olive's mom and sang in the "I Love You" song, reiterated the importance of the music department's influence and impact on students' lives during the sweet, tender moments shared throughout the experience that yields a lifetime of memories.

"I enjoyed taking a risk," Walsh said. "I hope this is not the last time the music department puts on the 24-hour musical. I want to come back and watch this next year."

The music booster-sponsored event drew aboout 288 attendees, generating roughly $2,500 through ticket and concession sales. Though in its early stages of review, Kuglich said she hopes to share an event each year that "encompasses" every aspect of the M-S music department.

"We're going to give it a little bit of time so we can assess," Kuglich said. "I think that they (the students) enjoyed the challenge. They proved something to themselves."

Kuglich said the students will complete a survey in addition to the department's assessment of received donations in comparison with the manpower necessary to produce the event.

In addition to Kuglich, orchestra director Michael Stevens, who helped generate the concept for the 24-hour musical, along with music director Jill Rinkel, technical overseer Phil Meyer, choreographer Maggie Kinnamon and drama/parent liaison Ellen Ericson each impressively contributed to the evening's performance.

"I'm incredibly grateful for everything," Kuglich said. "The thing I loved about the musical is that it's such a process that involves so many people. I walked out of there impressed with the level of dedication that students have for their craft and the lengths that parent volunteers went to make the night a success for us, as well."

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