“I’m 8,” said Lauren Stone.
“I’m about 12,” said James Sgambati.
Although there is nowhere in the actual performance where they tell the audience how old they are, the actors in the Bainbridge Performing Arts’
“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” have internalized the script’s side notes.
Stone and Sgambati are two of the six spellers in the musical comedy that brings to life the phases of pre-teen oddity.
“If you be honest to it, you can go anywhere,” said director Ken Michels about the script. “And we want six kids up here.”
Best known for his work with last year’s hit, “The Full Monty,” the BPA has called upon Michels in past performances for his expertise in bringing comedy to the stage.
This performance, Michels added, could be considered a master’s class in comic timing. It’s a comedy that brings forth a collection of elementary and middle school weird.
“It’s just fun, for lack of a better word, because that’s what theater should be,” said Michels.
But above all, the show’s underlying message tells of the challenges of growing up; of being old enough to understand human emotions but not quite old enough to be able to interpret and communicate them.
“It shows that kids, even though they’re 10, they still are human beings,” said Colleen Gillon, who plays the quiet Olive Ostrovsky.
With no main character, the musical gives each role a center-stage moment.
From the sneezy, hot-tempered Vice Principal Panch who reads aloud the competing words, to the kind and teacher-like but obsessive Spelling Bee host, Rona Lisa Peretti, the third annual Putnam County Spelling Bee winner.
Gillon’s role, like the other five spellers, characterizes the insecurities, loneliness and awkwardness that no one quite grows out of, but rather learns to live with.
Gillon plays lonely Olive Ostrovsky, who calls a well-worn dictionary her only reliable friend. Stone plays the flawless 8-year-old competitor, Marcy Park. Sgambati plays Boy Scout Chip Tolentino, who seems to be hitting puberty. Justin Lynn plays the role of introvert William Barfee. Ryan O’Donnell plays scatterbrained Leaf Coneybear, who has always been told he’s not very smart. Michelle Abad plays Loggaine Schwartzandgrubenierre, who struggles with the pressures of her overachieving adoptive parents.
What they all have in common is that they know how to spell, and they have the spelling bee drive to win it all.
“It’s a kid show,” said Gillon. “But the subject and show is really challenging.”
The story propels the show. But the music is the heart of the story, Michels explained.
“It’s musically challenging, but exhilarating,” said Josh Anderson, the show’s musical director. “When you’re in the directing position, it’s so fun that it’s like Christmas every day.”
Anderson put together the musical arrangement for the show, and the lyrics are timed to the T.
It’s a show that calls on the BPA’s strongest actors. Distinct and individual stories are told through the lens of kids with speech impediments and Heelys shoes.
“I’m so busy running up and down the aisle laughing that I forget, ‘Oh, maybe I should direct,’” Michels said. “We’re hoping that the audience goes on the same journey with us.”
There will be a pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7. The opening show will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8 with a reception an hour before at 6:30 p.m. The following performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 17. Tickets are $27 for adults, $22 for seniors and $19 for youth, students, military and teachers.
The show’s title sponsor is Bella Signature Design. BPA is supported, in part, by One Call for All.