Spells like teen spirit

Last updated 11:49 29/05/2014
Spelling bee musical
Nick Reed/Fairfax NZ

QUEEN BEE: Spelling bee official Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Rachael Gasston, has a firm grip on the winner's trophy in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, being staged at Riverlea Theatre from Saturday.

spelling musical
Nick Reed/Fairfax NZ
WORLD UP: Contestant Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre (Georgia Pollock) contemplates her next challenge.

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Childhood taboos, the power of embarrassment and some very unusual words are featured in a musical being staged at Hamilton's Riverlea Theatre.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is described as an examination of six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves. It features a quirky yet charming cast of characters - outsiders, for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time.

The Tony Award-winning show features audience participation with some notable Hamiltonians appearing on stage. On opening night, Hamilton East MP David Bennett will have his spelling powers challenged, while comedian Te Radar will be in the spotlight in the Friday, June 6, show.

"What makes this show different is the fact that each night we take the stage there are four audience members required to be a part of the cast for the first act," Musikmakers committee spokeswoman Liza Kire said. "They are required to spell words, which adds to the humour.

"Although Spelling Bee is a scripted show, having a different group of people on stage makes every performance different due to the unpredictable nature of what could happen and will really test the improvisation skills of the cast members. Audience spellers will become part of each musical number and some dance sequences, without knowing exactly what will happen unless they are die-hard fans of the musical itself."

The show features plenty of memorable characters such as Rona Lisa Peretti (Rachel Gasston), a former Putnam County Spelling Bee champion who has gone on to become the competition's moderator. Her favorite moment of the bee is in the minutes before it starts, when all the children are filled with the joy of competition - before they begin to resent each other.

Then there's Vice-Principal Douglas Panch (Greg Hack), who has returned to judging the show following a five-year absence following an "incident". He claims to be in "a better place" now thanks to a high-fibre diet and Jungian analysis.

Mark Hutana plays Mitch Mahoney, the Official Comfort Counsellor. An ex-convict, Mitch is performing his community service with the bee and hands out juice boxes to losing students.

Other characters include Olive Ostrovsky (Jane Martin), a newcomer to competitive spelling who made friends with her dictionary; William Barfée (Emma Koretz), a finalist in the previous year's competition who was eliminated due to a peanut allergy; Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre (Georgia Pollock), the youngest and most politically-aware speller; Leaf Coneybear (Samuel Evans), who hails from a large family of former hippies; and Charlito "Chip" Tolentino (David Bowers Mason), a boy scout and the competition's reigning champion.

Bowers Mason gets to sing a number intriguingly titled My Unfortunate Erection. He also plays the character of Jesus for one scene, and gets to strut the stage in a loin cloth while carrying a cross.

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Kire herself plays Marcy Park, who "speaks six languages, is a member of all-American hockey, a championship rugby player, plays Chopin and Mozart on multiple instruments, sleeps only three hours a night, hides in the bathroom cabinet, and is getting very tired of always winning."

What:The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Where: Riverlea Theatre

When: May 31 to June 21

Tickets: iticket.co.nz

Website: riverlea.org.nz

- Waikato

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