Drexel Players stages 'Spelling Bee'

Arriving on Drexel’s campus two months ago, South Street resident Dean Bloomingdale is already taking the stage and singing his heart out.

By Jess Fuerst
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On Friday, Dean Bloomingdale, a newly-minted Drexel University student, was preparing for his first official spelling bee — taking place in the fictional Putnam County, of course.

“I love this play,” Bloomingdale, born and raised at South and 11th streets, said of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” “It started out a couple years ago as just a skit from an improvisational group about a spelling bee. It evolved into the musical that it is now.”

The one-act musical features multiple students preparing for a spelling bee. Bloomingdale will be playing the role of the father of Olive, one of the six aspiring spellers.

“Olive doesn’t have a good relationship with her parents. Her father is often out and working. … At one point during the show, she goes into this fantasy about her mother and father appearing and singing to her about how much they love her,” Bloomingdale said. “In the midst of this really comedic show, you have this touching moment.”

Comedy, however, is paramount in the short musical, which uniquely calls on four audiences members to compete with the six cast members in the bee. This live element adds a special touch for both the audience and the cast.

“I’m excited to see the spellers who get picked,” Bloomingdale, 19, said in advance of last week’s opening night. “There is a lot of improv involved with the cast onstage interacting with the four audience members, so it’s always absolutely a show for the cast, as well.”

The production, running through Nov. 18 at West Philly’s Mandell Theater, is put on by the university’s student-run club, the Drexel Players, an extracurricular group that works in conjunction with the theater department to put on three shows per year. For freshman, like Bloomingdale, it was a way to hit the ground running.

“[Drexel administrators] had an activities fair at school for the student-run clubs and [Drexel Players members] had their tables set up advertising what they were doing this season and I wanted to do something in theater since I’ve been doing theater since seventh grade,” he said. “We all started together after we had auditions at the beginning of October.

“We had only been in rehearsal three weeks when we started teching the show. In my personal experience, that’s a really short time to learn a show like that. It was a very quick process, but our director did a fantastic job pulling it together.”

Commuting to Drexel from his childhood home, Bloomingdale also commuted to high school at St. Joseph’s Prep, but kept many of his extracurricular activities in the neighborhood.

“I spend a lot of time in South Philly because my band is based in South Philly,” Bloomingdale said of the progressive/alternative rock band, Valse, for which he plays keyboardist and sings lead vocals with four area friends. They practice at the guitarist’s house at 12th Street and Snyder Avenue.

Bloomingdale said that while he didn’t want to pursue an onstage career he intended to participate in the university’s theater program wherever he matriculated.

“From a young age I loved being on stage. I was an attention hog when I was a kid. It was the perfect outlet for it,” he said. “As I continued to do it through grade school, I started watching more and more shows. Prep’s theater program was such a well-known theater program in the area.

“We have a small cast and small stage, but it’s a very intimate, professional setting, which really appealed to me.”

Though he previously took a few vocal lessons, most of Bloomingdale’s training has been on the stage and from being around other actors. As a testament to the Philly theater community, Bloomingdale found the overall culture at his high school to be very nurturing of the performing arts.

“It’s something you elect to do. I loved how theater isn’t exactly the cool thing to do yet everybody wanted to be in this program,” Bloomingdale, who also has played the piano for 14 years, said. “You have people coming from the sports teams who want to be in theater. And they get in if they want it enough.”

While Bloomingdale has participated in musical theater for several years, he was not interested in pursuing a career on the stage. Instead, he is exploring the possibility of pursuing it behind the scenes at Drexel.

“I’m a freshman in the music industry program. We are learning the inner-workings and business of the music industry, on the producing and recording end,” he said of the program that a friend’s mother recommended to him. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s a mix of songwriting, which I’ve been doing for a couple years, and knowing the inner workings of the industry, networking with people and collaborating with people on projects.”

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