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Columnist returns to stage, learns new word

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

Believe it or not, that 21-letter monstrosity that reads and sounds more like gibberish is, in fact, an actual word.

Also known as the wedge-tail triggerfish, the humuhumu (abbreviated for my sanity) is the state fish of Hawaii.

It’s also the word that got me serenaded off the stage of the Woodstock Opera House last weekend by someone I thought for a moment might have been the reincarnation of John Belushi. (I’ll explain in a moment.)

As I wrote in this space several weeks ago, I made my grand reappearance on the stage for the first time in, well, about 36 years as a guest audience speller in the musical-comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

As the title suggests, the play centers on a fictional spelling bee and its unusual cast of characters. It was produced and performed by the nonprofit TownSquare Players, McHenry County’s oldest active theater troupe.

Paul Lockwood, the troupe’s president and the play’s co-producer, invited me to be one of four audience members who joined the ensemble cast on stage for last Sunday’s performance. That’s one of the fun and unique things about this particular play – the fact that members of the audience participate to a small degree in each performance. That means that each show is a little different from the others because the guest spellers change each time.

In between extremely funny comedy skits and musical numbers that offer a glimpse into the psyche of the main characters, an actual spelling bee occurs.

In order for the play to reach its climax, the audience spellers have to be eliminated from the bee so the pros can finish their job.

That leads me to “humuhumu.”

Early in the bee, I and the other audience members were tossed a few softballs. “Cow” was one of the words a fellow audience speller was given. I correctly spelled “atheist” and two others before it was time for me to exit stage left.

That’s when I was asked to spell “humuhumunukunukuapua’a.”

As I stood in front of a near-capacity audience at the Opera House, I was certain that the word was made up just for this particular play as a way to get me off the stage. I laughed a little and mumbled a few incoherent letters before the bell rang, signaling that I spelled it incorrectly.

Well, no kidding.

That’s when John Belushi – actor Jimmy Lundstrom actually, playing an hysterical but not-so-comforting comfort counselor, who during my stage fright looked a lot like a gruff Belushi – sang the “Goodbye” song to me as my two children, in the audience with my wife, covered their faces in agonized, embarrassed horror.

Poor kids.

I got to enjoy the rest of the show from the audience with my family – and we enjoyed it tremendously. It was after the performance that my wife informed me that “humuhumu” is an actual word.

What do you know?

In addition to Lundstrom, I want to recognize the other talented actors who made this nine-performance run so entertaining. They are:

• Carrie MacDonald, who played Rona Lisa Peretti, a former bee champion and moderator of this bee.

• Joel Bennett, who played Chip Tolentino, a Boy Scout and defending champion.

• Dayna Palya, who played Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, the youngest speller who has two fathers.

• Daniel Rosenfield, who played Leaf Coneybear, who makes it to the county bee only because the top two finishers of his district’s bee had scheduling conflicts.

• Scott Bussert, who played William Barfee (he pronounces it Barfay), who uses his magic foot to help him spell words correctly.

• Jessica Buehler, who played Olive Ostrovsky, a newcomer to the bee whose parents are too busy to make it to the competition.

• Melina Rey, who played Marcy Park, who recently moved to Putnam County from Virginia, and who placed ninth in last year’s nationals.

• Tim Vance, who played Vice Principal Doug Panch, a returning judge who stepped away from the bee five years earlier after an unfortunate “incident.”

Of course, there were many behind-the-scenes contributors as well, including a live orchestra (Barb Klein on piano; Karen Stein on reeds; Kristin Lundine on trombone; Kyle Schneider on keyboard; Dave Byers on percussion; and Rosemarie Aiello conducting.)

Roger Zawacki directed.

Although I have to admit that I had never been to a TownSquare Players production before, after this wonderful experience, I guarantee I’ll be back.

• • •

Worthy cause: Hearthstone Communities is gearing up for its annual “Jazzed About Community” dinner and auction fundraiser, to be held at 6 p.m. April 20 at Village Hall Banquets in Union.

Jazz also is the entertainment theme. Glazz, a Latin Jazz group from Woodstock featuring Chicago vocalist Judith Honesty, will perform.

Hearthstone, formerly known as Woodstock Christian Life Services, is a faith-based nonprofit that provides a wide range of services for children and senior citizens.

Popular auctioneer and Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager will auction off a number of great items, including a South Africa photo safari and a Colorado resort vacation.

Tickets are $75 a person or $140 a couple, with options to purchase a table of 8 and 10.

To buy tickets, visit shawurl.com/jtg or call Hearthstone’s Deb Rabine at 815-321-4039. Proceeds go to support Hearthstone’s great services.

• • •

Happy Easter: Today is Easter Sunday, that special day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s also a day of renewal, of forgiveness, of rebirth and of hope.

The past several years, I’ve celebrated Easter with my sister and her family, who made it a tradition to drive here from Pennsylvania. Schedules didn’t allow that this year, unfortunately. So we’ll be missing them.

Regardless, I hope everyone has a great Easter Sunday.

• Crystal Lake resident Dan McCaleb is group editor for Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which include the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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