Cast (from left): Lauren Landman, Mitchell J. Hardy, Erin Johnson, Jason Bowen, Alec Diem and Maryanna Lauter.
Cast (from left): Lauren Landman, Mitchell J. Hardy, Erin Johnson, Jason Bowen, Alec Diem and Maryanna Lauter. (Nicely Theatre Group)

Laura Landman is returning to Michigan as part of the ensemble cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is being presented July 28-31 by the Nicely Theatre Group enhanced by a live band.

Lauren Landman grew up in Michigan surrounded by a three-generation family of theater fans and community theater performers. In Chicago, an aunt and uncle (Naomi Landman and Neil Tobin) could be seen on professional stages.

What Landman enjoyed most at age 6 seemed to fit in with her heritage and surroundings without ever changing. A role as an orphan in a community theater production of Annie cemented her interest.

Lauren Landman

Twenty-one years later, while pursuing a theater career in New York, she has returned to Michigan as part of the ensemble cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is being presented July 28-31 by the Nicely Theatre Group enhanced by a live band. Although planned as an outdoor show on the grounds of the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, the production can be readily switched inside if the weather dictates.

“I’ve never performed in a show outdoors before, but I’ve seen shows outdoors,” said Landman, who portrays one of six adolescents competing to surpass opponents as each presents special challenges amid the tension of the bee. 

“Mitch Master, our director, and David Carroll, our producer, have some exciting ideas about how to incorporate doing the show outdoors, and we have exciting visions before and after the show to really help welcome audiences into the environment. We’re going to be miked and have food trucks, weather permitting.”

Landman takes on the role of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the daughter of two gay men pushing her to excel as written in the script by Rachel Sheinkin and the score by William Finn. 

“All of the children’s roles are written to be larger than life,” Landman said. “Although they are caricatures, we’ve been focusing on making these kids’ stories authentic and relatable. 

“My character is a bit insecure, so she overcompensates for it by showing a lot of confidence even though it isn’t always genuine. Schwartzy, as she is nicknamed, makes connections during the bee and learns how to stand up to the pressure that her fathers are always placing on her. 

“My main song is ‘Woe Is Me,’ which laments all the pressure. It’s very fast and a hard song to sing since it’s almost a tongue twister. Because the show is ensemble-focused, we sing most of the songs together, but each character gets a song to detail reasons for wanting to win the bee.”

Landman built her musical theater experience by appearing in school productions, first in the Walled Lake system and then at Detroit Country Day School. Summers were divided between Interlochen Arts Camp and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Mich. 

While studying theater at Kalamazoo College, Landman was able to appear in summer stock productions at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo and the Dio in Pinckney. 

Lauren Landman (right) hails from a family of theater fans and actors.
Lauren Landman (right) hails from a family of theater fans and actors. Nicely Theatre Group

New York instructional opportunities included enrollment at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Broadway Dance Center. She also participated in educational programming at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. Through those experiences, Landman was able to take master classes with popular stage stars, such as Joanna Gleason, a Tony Award-winner who had the lead in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

A month after moving to New York in 2019, Landman was cast into her first national tour, a children’s theater production about the Holocaust. The drama My Heart in a Suitcase, presented through ArtsPower National Touring Theatre, placed Landman in the role of Anne Lehmann, the lead character. 

“It’s based on a memoir by Anne Lehmann Fox, whose parents made the decision to send her on the Kindertransport so that she would hopefully survive as things were getting worse and worse for Jewish people in Germany,” said Landman, who attended services and religious classes at Temple Israel. “She was ultimately the only member of her family to survive. 

“The play was focused on her at age 12, and I look much younger than I am. It is a beautiful, emotional and powerful play, and I was so grateful to be part of it. I was supposed go out on another leg of the tour, but that’s when COVID hit. The tour was canceled.”

Landman was asked to be in the spelling bee musical by Mitch Master, who had worked with her in a Bloomfield Players production of Fiddler on the Roof.

“I hope I eventually will perform fulltime, but I understand the importance of having a backup plan,” said Landman, who has been working in social media to help support herself. “In the meantime, this musical is such a great time.” 

Details

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is being performed at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, July 28-31, on the grounds of the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield. $25. Grounds open at 7:30 p.m. for refreshments and music. Bring your own chairs and blankets. nicelytheatregroup.org.

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.