|Yakob Engel as the lugubrious William Barfee|
PHOTO by Jan Cartwright
Fourteen year-old Yakob Engel knows what it’s like to be different – an outsider. “I don't really have a hometown. I have never lived somewhere for more than 5 or 6 years at most. Over the past 6 years I have moved about 3 times.” This sense of displacement or not belonging is something that helps Yakob relate to his character William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. As Yakob says, “the theme I can relate to most is the theme of being different. All the spellers are portrayed as weird and awkward each in their own way. And as a theater-loving kid who has been home schooled for several years, you can see why I can relate to not being the most normal kid out there.”
In the Farmington Players production of Spelling Bee, most roles are double-cast with teens in the youth cast and 20-somethings in the adult cast. But despite being only 14, Yakob has both the stage presence and the physical stature to pull off playing Barfee in both casts. He has embraced his character’s differences and turned them into a strength. Yakob believes that Spelling Bee will resonate with audiences because it is so different from the typical musical: “I think people will like this show because it is so original and unique. Everything feels new in it. From the concept to the style of humor to the music it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
One of the unique aspects of Barfee is that he uses his “magic foot” to spell out words before he says them in the Bee. Yakob prepared for this role by learning beginner tap dancing, which “got me used to doing strange things with my feet.” But his favorite aspect of playing William Barfee is “the singing. In my every day life I sing more than I talk and feel really blessed that I can go on stage with this role and sing so much. But at the same time the singing is probably the biggest challenge that comes with this role. Willam Barfee's singing rang is huge and it is usually accompanied by dancing which makes it challenging but fun at the same time.”
Yakob “wanted to be in Spelling Bee was because I thought it would be a good experience for me. The show is very wacky and zany and that is way easier for me to do than being serious.” Theatre and music are hobbies now, but he wants to pursue them as a career. Yakob says his fellow cast and crew members are “amazing to work with. The cast is insanely talented and they put so much energy into their roles.”
The Farmington Players production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is proudly sponsored by Mall, Malisow & Cooney, PC. Four audience members (including some local celebrities) will be selected as spellers at each performance. Come see the Bee at the Barn (#BeeAtTheBarn)! The show includes 12 performances (the three Saturday matinees feature 12-to-16 year-old spellers along with the regular adult cast.) from December 4 – 20. Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by contacting the Barn box office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-553-2955.