The second Starlighters II Theatre production of the year, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” will introduce audience members to new actors making their Starlighters debut.

The new faces include young cast members and veterans of other local theaters. Those from the latter category said it was their love of the show that pushed them to audition for the production.

One such performer is D.J. Kohl, who will be playing the role of the previous year’s runner-up William Barfee.

“I’m a huge fan of (writer) William Finn,” Kohl said, adding that the show had been recommended by a couple of friends.

Kohl has experience from both Theatre Cedar Rapids and the Iowa City Community Theatre and said the process of working on his first Starlighters has been a fun one. 

Another Theatre Cedar Rapids alum in the show is Lucas Lowder, who will be playing the role of defending bee champion Chip Tolentin. Lowder has performed previously at Cedar Rapids Follies and the Giving Tree Theater. Like Kohl, Lowder was attracted to the project by his love of the script and has really grown to enjoy the character of Chip, even though he wasn’t sure at first that it was the right fit for him.

Stephanie Buonadonna, another Starlighters newcomer and veteran of the stage in both Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon, said being able to perform in a production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” allows her to cross something off her bucket list.

In the role of Putnam County's top realtor and spelling bee host, Rona Lisa Peretti, Buonadonna gets to play someone who acts completely contrary to how she views herself.

Other newcomers include high school talent, like Monticello junior Robby Holmes and recent Mount Vernon graduate Sam White. Jennifer Beall, who’s directing the production and also directed last year’s musical “She Loves Me,” said the mix of new faces with veteran talent works well.

“I think it’s been a good opportunity for the high schoolers to work with some really talented people,” she said.

Also part of the cast are Starlighters veterans Rebecca Vernon, fresh off her award-winning portrayal in “She Loves Me,” and Matt English. Megan Zimmerman and Caleb Marner round out the cast.

There will be plenty of zany characters, each with their own little quirk. Kohl said it was fun to be able to develop a character with a unique voice.

“It took a little practice to get it where I could do it for the entire show in one run,” he said.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows the story of “an eclectic group of six mid-pubescents vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime.” The show will run June 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30. Friday and Saturday shows will start at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows will be at 2 p.m. The cost of tickets is $19 for adults and $18 for students and seniors.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by calling 319-462-4793 or by going to

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