Music and lyrics by William Finn Book by Rachel Shineman Concieved by Bebecca Feldman Additional material by Jay Reiss Originally directed on Broadway by James Lepine Originally produced on Broadway byDavid Stone, James L. Nederlander,Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catulllo Barrington Stage Company, Second Stage Theatre
In “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the characters have more quirks and peculiarities than will be found in any other contest. Here, above all, winning is the only thing. The spellers have problems with family dysfunction, social ineptitude, and knowing where they belong in this world of competitive spelling, where finishing second is only being the first loser.
Andy Rice directs this musical funny peek into the world of competitive spelling. The show features the most outlandish band of middle school misfits ever to grace a stage. The youngsters are played by an adult cast, and their performances are strictly for a mature audience. For those who like to root for the underdog, this musical offers a variety of choices to support. Don’t be fooled by that old saying “just getting here is like winning.” These kids know better, and there has to be only one. The ultimate winner is the audience, which is treated to superb comedy and fabulous songs every night.
Middle school anxieties are infamous … raging hormones, trying to fit in, breaking away from parent controls to name a few. While those years are notoriously full of struggles and sometimes painful self-discovery for most adolescents, it’s great fun to remember those years from the safe distance of adulthood. Halifax County Little Theatre’s upcoming production of the Tony Award winning musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee touches on many of those classic teenage struggles, and they’re betting audiences will recognize and remember some of the same issues portrayed on stage.
While this story takes place within the drama of a Spelling Bee, the characters all bring drama of their own into the story. You won’t have to ever have worried about how to spell pheochromocytom or albumgraecum to relate to someone, whether it’s the perfectionist, the oh-so-self-conscious shy girl, or the easy going dreamer. We’ve all known or been someone like these characters at some time in our lives.
Director Andy Rice couldn’t be happier with the talent he’s found to cast this hilarious show. “This show calls for great vocals and comedic acting, and these actors fill the bill. They are fantastic singers, so talented! The music is difficult, but every character is impressive! We have a great time every night laughing at the situations we are creating. This is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time.”
Three of the six contestants in the BEE are girls, and they are played to the hilt by three very talented actresses. Kara Stone and Lauren Cole, while experienced on stages elsewhere, will be making their first appearances in a Little Theatre production, but Sharron Garrett is very familiar to HCLT audiences. Sharron’s first HCLT experience was in the wildly popular Smokey Joe’s Café in 2008. “That experience set the bar high,” says Sharron. “It was thrilling and exciting, the toughest role I’ve had.” She followed that up with a role in Crowns in 2011, and then wowed audiences as a diva in Beehive, The Rockin’ 60’s Musical in 2014.
In Spelling Bee, Sharron plays Marcy Park, a girl who doesn’t know the meaning of the word lose; she ALWAYS wins. Marcy is fluent in 6 languages, excels at EVERYTHING, including Karate and gymnastics. She is a perfectionist “which I’m definitely NOT!” laughs Sharron. About this role, Sharron commented, “It’s different from what I normally do. I don’t know which is more uncomfortable, playing Tina Turner or being a kid in a Spelling Bee.” Sharron, who has worked locally as a Victim Witness Program Coordinator since 2002, stepped up and gave it her all to become a fantastic Tina Turner; there’s no doubt she’ll embrace her inner child and make audiences fall in love with Marcy.
“We have issues we play out onstage,” Sharron says about the characters in Spelling Bee. “It’s a funny musical; definitely not like any others. It’s a musical and comedy rolled into one!”
Marcy’s opposite in the cast is Olive Ostrovsky, a painfully shy, self-conscious girl. Olive is played by Lauren Cole, a Michigan native who recently moved to Danville. Lauren comes from a musical family, and considers it really cool to have parents who nurture what you want to do. Her sister is still her favorite person to sing with. Lauren brings a great deal of vocal experience to the stage. She majored in vocal music at Western Michigan University, and has been a part of many musical theatre productions, including Little Shop of Horrors and Les Miz, where she played her favorite part, Cozette.
What Lauren loves about Olive is that although she is very shy at first, she goes through a big transformation. “She grows, her confidence blossoms,” Lauren says, “and that is fun to play.” Lauren has nothing but praise for her fellow cast members. “The music is going to blow people away!” she says. “Everyone has really stepped up and made things so enjoyable. Everyone is so talented! For my first work in Virginia I couldn’t have picked a better show, cast, or theatre company!”
Lauren auditioned for Spelling Bee literally the very day she moved to this area. In addition to getting settled into a new town, she’s busy planning her wedding and beginning to look for a new job. “Music is my first love, and I’d love to have a job in the music field,” she explained. She does have experience in office work, as a receptionist, and might pursue that. Meanwhile, this role gives her the opportunity to do what she loves most. “Even when you’re not getting paid, she laughs, “it’s super rewarding.”
About 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Lauren says, “I think people need to know how funny it is. It’s so fun! Don’t be scared of the PG13 rating. Everyone knew THAT kid in middle school, and will be able to relate to one or all of these characters. I think I knew 3 or 4 of them… I remember that weird kid that nobody talked to… all these characters are somebody you went to school with! There’s nothing quite like it!”
Rounding out the female contestants in the Spelling Bee is Loganne SchwartzandGrubenniere. Yes, that’s a complicated name, and she’s a complicated girl. She’s played by Kara Stone, a native of Rockland California who has lived in Halifax since 2011. About Loganne, Kara says, ‘She’s the biggest overachiever. She tries to do everything 102%. She doesn’t want to let anyone in her family down. Basically, it’s tearing her apart! She’s the youngest contestant in the Spelling Bee; she’s still in elementary school. She’s trying to be what everyone else wants her to be.”
When asked if she was similar to her character, Kara hesitated. “I do want to do the best I can in shows. I would love to be able to portray her as well as any professional in any production.” Recently Kara traveled to California for a wedding. She had to miss some rehearsals, but “now basically my family knows every word to every song, because I wouldn’t stop singing it! We listened to the soundtrack all the way to Oregon and back!”
Kara lived and breathed theater in high school. When she moved here, she didn’t know very many people at all, and getting involved in theater here was a great way to meet people. Although it’s been a culture shock, Kara is loving living in a small town. She explained that “in California, everybody’s moving so fast they don’t tend to interact with people they don’t know. It’s nice how people want to get to know you here. They introduce themselves if they don’t know you. People have welcomed me with absolutely open arms. I’ve met so many good people who genuinely wanted to be sure I was doing well. They have been sincerely helpful.”
Kara hopes to become an American Sign Language Interpreter. She works full time at Applebee’s right now, and besides theater, she loves photography. Her favorite part of Spelling Bee is watching all the characters come out in their solos. She especially loves to watch Leaf Coneybear. “He’s such a sweet and funny character,” she says. “You really want him to win.”
“Everyone will enjoy this show,” she continues. “It’s just a loveable, funny show. If you can’t relate to all the characters, you will relate to at least one. Middle school is a really awkward time, when you’re trying to figure out if what you want is the same thing your parents want you to do. Watching this show is an opportunity to take back those thoughts, remember that phase of your life, and be able to relate to where these characters end up.
Don’t miss this hilariously entertaining offering from HCLT. It’s a perfect date night or girls’ night out. While the scandalous factor doesn’t even approach what you can find on TV, the material does include some humor meant only for adults, so HCLT advises you to make other plans for children and younger teens. Adults deserve a night for themselves sometimes, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is just the ticket. Tickets are available at www.hclt.org, www.prizery.com, and at Halifax County Visitor’s Center or Prizery box office by calling 572-8339 or through Halifax County Little Theatre at 579-5041.
Performance dates are April 10, 11, 14, 17, and 18 at 7:30, and April 12 and 19 at 3:00. Several lucky audience members will have the opportunity to join the cast and be a part of the show each night. These cast members will need to arrive early enough to fill out an application and those chosen will get a bit of coaching before the curtain opens . Come on out, it’s going to be so much fun!
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is presented by special arrangement with Musical Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.421 West 54th Street New York NY 10019 Phone 212-541-4684 FAX 212-397-4684 www.MTIShows.com