Legacy hopes to leave audiences ‘spell’ bound with ‘The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

The cast of Legacy Theatre's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Photo/Special.

The national spelling bee has become must-see television each year for people of all ages. It has drama, humor and heart, as children from all over the country do battle with words that most people would have a hard time pronouncing. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a musical that takes the drama of being a middle school aged child competing in a county spelling bee and introduces a good dose of hilarity for the audience who can look back on adolescence fondly (from a safe distance).

“One of the things I love about the show is it has the opportunity to be different every time,” said cast member Michael Stiggers (comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney). “There’s a lot of chances for creativity in the script. Courtney Godwin, who plays Olive Ostrovsky, agreed. “There’s a lot of audience participation. It brings a totally different energy each night.”

Several audience members will be part of the spelling bee and will be able to stay in the contest as long as they keep spelling the words correctly.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opened on Broadway in 2005 and won a Tony Award. The score was written by William Finn and the script was written by Rachel Sheinkin. Director Mark Smith compared the show to “Whose Line Is It Anyway” with music. Some of the songs are sweet, heartfelt and quirky, while some of the ballads are just breathtaking. There are a lot of different genres of music in the show, including gospel, opera and classic Broadway.

The cast loves the fact that the show is an ensemble and that each character is so deep with specific stories and backgrounds. They feel that this makes it easy for audiences to relate to. They may have known kids like this in school or even been like these kids.

The show is very popular and Smith wanted to be sure that his cast knew they had freedom to do different things with their characters than the Broadway cast did.

“They aren’t pigeon-holed,” Smith said, adding that he didn’t want the cast to merely mimic mannerisms of children but to find the reasons for their mannerisms.

The cast includes several fresh faces from across the region as well as a few actors Legacy patrons have come to know and love.  “This cast makes me feel like the coach of a an NCAA championship basketball team,” said Smith.  “The talent runs deep.  We really have assembled an incredible cast with this one.”  The Bee’s “pre-pubescent brainiacs” are multi-lingual national finalist Marcy Park (Leslie Bellair), Putnam Basin district and second runner up Leaf Coneybear (Justin Thompson), Magna Magnet for the gifted and unusual representative Logainne Schwarzandgrubenniere (Amanda Hardie), last year’s finalist who was eliminated for health reasons William Barfee (Alejandro Gutierrez), newcomer Olive Ostrovsky (Godwin), and last year’s champion Chip Tolentino (Jeremiah Hobbs).  Also on hand at the Bee are comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Stiggers), longtime local Bee hostess and former champ Rona Lisa Peretti (Jenna Tamisiea) and Lake Hemingway-Dos Passas Junior High Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Charlie Bradshaw). 
The Legacy’s version will also have a unique spin on Spelling Bee’s staging.  Usually set in a gym, Smith has envisioned this Bee as if the imagined Putnam County School Board had rented the Legacy in the middle of their season to present their Bee. 

“It really opened up the possibilities for the show as the script constantly blurs the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy in the minds of these kids,” said Smith. “What better place than a theater to explore those fascinating elements?” 

Smith is also excited to bring back to the Legacy three exceptional designers to collaborate on the show:  Ryan McGettigan from Boston (set designer for ”John & Jen” and ”The Marvelous Wonderettes”), Scott Glascock from St. Louis (lighting designer for ”Baby” and “Wonderettes”) and Jane Kroessig (costume designer for “Annie” and “Driving Miss Daisy”). 

The show is popular with both audiences and actors. Once it was announced that Legacy would be staging this, they received a lot of submissions from actors. Bellair has played Marcy Park in two other productions and is enjoying exploring some different things with the character. Godwin knows that audiences will be howling at parts of the show because she finds this show to be one of the hardest not to break in.

Smith warns that the show is rated PG-13 for some adult content.  Leave the kids at home for this one, and make plans to attend the Bee. 

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs April 15-May 1. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

There will be no matinee show on Easter Sunday, April 24. A 7 p.m. show has been added to May 1.  Reserve your tickets by calling 404-895-1473 or go online at www.thelegacytheatre.org.