Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Stage West gears up for 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

The Tony Award-winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee sounds like a show for the very young.

But it's not.

"This isn't a kids' show; it's for grownups," said Patty Villegas, who is directing the Aug. 3-12 production at Stage West Community Playhouse.

This isn't to say it's R-rated; it just means that the clever and sometimes bawdy show would be enjoyed most by those who are young adults or older, she said.

Spelling Bee takes place in a vaguely located small-town high school gymnasium, where students are vying for the county's spelling championship. They're joined by volunteers from the audience, making a total of a dozen contestants.

Want to be one of the spelling bee contestants?

"You can sign up in the lobby ahead of time (to be on stage), and we give (you) the ground rules — take it seriously and don't 'act' when on stage," Villegas said. Four people are picked from the list of volunteers and are invited to sit on stage with the actors and actually take part in the spelling contest.

As the contest starts, the moderator, Miss Rona Peretti (Jessica Virginia, Catherine in Proof) welcomes everyone and begins to call up the participants to introduce them. As each nonaudience speller is called, the audience learns about him or her from the other actors on stage.

There's Leaf Coneybear (Jacob Rice, messenger in 1776), who got into the contest on a fluke; William Barfee (Jamie Smeriglio, debut), who has a unique spelling technique; Chip Tolentino (Michael Mekus, Rooster in Annie Jr.), who daydreams; Marigold (Hailey Schubert) about whom Chip daydreams; and various members from the audience.

Also in the contest are Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Dani Lips, chorus in Chicago), who has an unusual home life; Marcy Park (Sarah Huff, debut), who has pushy parents; Olive Ostrovsky (Julia Rifino, title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie), who has seemingly indifferent parents; and Mitch Mahoney (Christian Rice), who comforts everyone.

Kris Hamlin (Tommy in The Music Man) plays Olive's dad. Jeff Germann (Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show) is the short-tempered vice principal, Douglas Panch.

The tension mounts as each contestant tries for the big trophy, $200 and bragging rights, and the cast sings and dances to such songs as My Friend, the Dictionary; Pandemonium; Why We Like Spelling; My Unfortunate Erection; and My Favorite Moment of the Bee.

Finally, just two contestants remain — and romance blooms.

Ashley McCall, who played Fannie in Funny Girl and Marian in The Music Man, is doing her first turn as a musical director, leading an eight-piece orchestra. The stage manager is Chris Hubner.

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