We’ve all been there at some point: the nerdy one, the outcast, or the one who’s rated a little low on the coolness scale.
It’s for this reason that Kyle McDavid and Tim Matson feel audiences will enjoy their latest production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” being staged in the Basement Theatre of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre tonight until Saturday.
First staged on Broadway in 2005, “Spelling Bee” is a Tony Award-winning show set at a fictional spelling bee in Putnam Valley Middle School, run by vice-principal Douglas Panch (played by McDavid) as the word reader, Rona Lisa Peretti (Jacinta Mackey-Graham) as the judge, and Mitch Mahoney (Trevor Bennett), who is acting as the comfort counsellor in order to fulfil his court-mandated community service. There are six contestants, played by Miranda MacDonald, Jeff Simms, Kiersten Noel, Adrien Doucet, Mike Fardy and Mallory Johnson, each with their own quirky personality.
“These kids get to be rockstars for this one day a year and I think we can all emphasize with them,” McDavid, show producer and Best Kind’s artistic director, said. “I think it will be inspiring, in some ways, for people, and people will really grow to love the characters.”
Directing the show is Matson. With bachelor degrees in dramatic art and music performance from University of North Carolina and education from MUN as well as a masters in vocal performance with a concentration in musical theatre from NYU, Matson was the musical director for an Oakland, Maine production of “Spelling Bee” a few years ago.
He was involved with Best Kind’s version of “(title of show)” last year, and signed on immediately when McDavid suggested doing “Spelling Bee” in St. John’s.
What he likes most about the musical, he said, is its unpredictability. Parts of the show are unscripted and improvised, and the playwrights have left a fair bit of room for interpretation.
“It never is exactly the same; there are parts that will be different every night. The script has little things in there where they say, ‘You can make this a more topical or local reference,’ and you’re really encouraged by the writers to make it your own production and put your own personal stamp on it,” Matson said.
Throughout the one-act production, audiences will get to explore the characters’ backgrounds and quirks: Olive is a newcomer to spelling whose mother is in India and father is working late, as usual. William is severely allergic, and has a famous “magic foot” method of spelling. Logainne is a neat freak with a lisp who has two overbearing fathers.
Panch has recently returned after five years’ absence from the school.
“We keep referring to an incident that happened five years ago with Mr. Panch, but we never actually say what it was,” McDavid explained. “He’s a bit jaded and frustrated and waiting to be promoted to principal, which is probably never going to happen.”
The audience is also an integral part of the show, a handful of them called up to take part in the bee.
“The audience is more involved in this show than in a lot of musicals, and I think that’s more appealing, because it’s not the kind of show where you show up at 7:15 and sit back and two hours later you leave,” Matson said.
“Spelling Bee” is a musical, meaning there are songs, but not so much dancing — the characters aren’t the type who would burst into co-ordinated dance steps, Matson explained. The show is also not typical musical theatre in that the ending is entirely unpredictable, Matson said. “You pick your favourite speller and you cheer them on, and if they lose, it’s like, awww.” he said. “You really don’t know who’s going to win and it’s fun in that way.”
Best Kind Productions’ “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs each night at 7:30, with a Saturday matinee at
2 p.m. Tickets are $22 and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, online at www.artsandculturecentre.com or by calling 729-3900.
The show is recommended for audiences aged 13 and older.