PIQUA — With a “contemporary Broadway sound” and a “gut-wrenchingly funny” script, Piqua High School’s latest musical production is sure to have audiences toe-tapping, laughing — and possibly consulting a dictionary.
Set to music and lyrics by William Finn, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a comedy with a heartfelt storyline about a group of misfit kids taking part in a spelling competition, according to director Tom Westfall.
“This has always been a show I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “I saw the original Broadway play in New York years ago and loved it. This came across the plate and I thought I’d give it a shot. I thought, ‘This is the perfect show for a high school.’”
The Broadway production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was nominated for six Tony Awards in 2005, winning two — Best Book and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. The show also was nominated for a Grammy and several Drama Desk awards.
A full-scale show running two hours with a 15-minute intermission, the musical will feature a couple of unusual elements. First, the production is presented in stage on stage fashion — that is, the audience actually shares the platform with the performers. Because of this, seating will be limited, Westfall said.
Secondly, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is uniquely interactive.
“There will be actual audience members in the spelling bee,” Westfall explained. “You can sign up to participate upon arrival.”
Audience members who are selected to participate will be faced with actual Scripps National Spelling Bee words.
“We have chosen a lot of funny words,” Westfall said. “There’s also a lot of ad-libbing that has to be done with the adults who are chosen for the guest speller roles.”
The last audience member left onstage will be given an exceptionally difficult word that he or she is sure to miss.
“If we should happen to get an excellent speller, we have one word that will definitely stump them!” Westfall said.
In addition, a “comfort counselor” will be on hand to console young cast members who flub their spelling words, as well as hand out juice box prizes to all participants, including audience members.
The musical is scored for piano, keyboard, percussion, reed and cello, and the musicians also will be on the stage as opposed to the orchestra pit. The band is led by Carol Palmer, PHS choral accompanist and music department aide.
“The songs sound very childlike, but they’re actually really detailed and challenging,” Westfall said. “That has been one of the rewarding parts of rehearsal. The music has definitely been harder than it looks.”
The cast of characters features:
• The Adults: Rona Lisa Perretti (Darby Bubp); Mitch Mahoney (Ryan Pierre); Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Westfall)
• The Spellers: Olive Ostrovsky (Audrey Jacomet); Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Triana Collier); William Barfee (David Potts); Leaf Coneybear (Mason Perry); Chip Tolentino (Christian Starrett); Marcus Parks (Decker Jackson)
• The Spelling Ensemble: Ashtyn Wilson, Mya Davis, Caitlyn Applegate, Ryan Barr, Bradyn Craft, Kaitlin Mullinnex, Daniel Powis, Zayne Arbogast, McKayla Meiring, Kari Marion, Danielle Widney
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, and Thursday, May 3, as well as 8 p.m. Friday, May 4. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors.
Westfall recommends the show for adults and older teens.
“Some of the humor is geared for adults. Although the characters are children, it’s a little more sophisticated humor,” he said. “People are going to be rolling in the aisles.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3341