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The Ocoee Theatre Guild announced the selection of its 11-member cast for its upcoming musical comedy production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opens Sept. 12 in Cleveland at The Venue Creekside in the Village Green Town Center.
According to James Marler, director of production, “So many people attending the auditions displayed such talent, it was hard to select among them.”
Those selected for the cast are Haley Anderson, playing “Schwartzy,” a politically outspoken contestant; Michael Bachman in the role of “William Barfee,” a nerdy know-it-all who uses his “magic foot” to power his responses; Jaclyn Baughman portrays “Olive,” a loner and latch-key kid whose best friend is a dictionary; Michelle Castleberry is in several diverse roles as parent of some contestants; Phil Haynie is “Mitch,” an ex-convict comfort counselor for those eliminated from the Bee; Edgardo Leon plays parent of several contestants; Don Markham plays “Panch,” a vice-principal who introduces the words and haphazardly pronounces them with definitions that highlight the comedy; Emily Selleck is “Marcy,” a really smart, multi-talented contestant; Paige Smith is “Rona,” the adult moderator who, in years past, was a Spelling Bee champion who nostalgically reminisces about her winning moment; Nathan Tullos is “Chip,” a youngish kid who gets distracted by romantic thoughts of a girl he sees while trying to spell; and Jonathan Tyndall play “Leaf Coneybear,” a homeschooled kid who “qualified” for the Bee on a whim, and even his parents couldn’t figure out how he got selected.
Marler commented, “I am so blessed with this cast of talented people and consider it a privilege to be directing them. They’re feisty, fun, and all of them have so readily inhabited the characters they play. I’m delighted at their professionalism.”
All of the cast members displayed multiple talents in acting, singing, and dancing through the songs and dance routines filling the show, according to Marler. Phil Haney, the elder member of the cast, eagerly said, “I’ve never seen a more dedicated or energetic cast. As the old person in the show, these fine talents are hard to keep up with. Haven’t had so much fun in a long time and I think the audience will love it even more. It’s fun when you get to play with an audience and they get to play back (referring to audience participation at each performance).”
The casting of adults in all the roles and the commandeering of four unsuspecting, but willing, audience members at each performance to participate in the bee make for hilarious moments. Terri Kirkpatrick, as costume designer, is busy designing costumes for the contestants that distinguish each character for their personalities. “I’m having so much fun with this as I transform the adult cast members into the adolescents they portray,” said Kirkpatrick. The cast sings songs with clever lyrics and interacts with laugh-inducing dialogue and improv comedy.
A smash hit on Broadway in 2005, the production won critical acclaim: “Overall, the show can be summed up in one word, F-U-N.” (Mary Kroeck, New City Chicago); “The show combines improv, music and scripted scenes and since there are four new faces from the audience at each show it stays fresh!”(Sally Jo Osborne, Chicago Stage Standard).
Heidi Longwith, an award-winning dance instructor with her own studio in Cleveland, is choreographing the production. “She’s been challenging us with unique dance routines, and we all appreciate her dedication to professional quality” said cast member Jonathan Tyndall.
As artistic director of the Tennessee Youth Ballet, Longwith also was the resident choreographer for Dollywood for many years. She also choreographed for many companies including Utah Musical Theatre and the South Eastern Theatre Conference, and opened Mountain Laurel Studios in 1992, here in Cleveland, teaching ballet, jazz, and tap.
The cast rehearses several nights a week, with long hours, leading to the opening of the production. In addition to their acting roles, they are learning the numerous songs in the musical, with professional instruction by musical director John Demerdjian. He will be joined by several musicians to form the live music accompaniment for the show.
The professional quality production has an experienced and talented production crew: Candy Tapper, as production coordinator; Chelsea French as stage manager, Brittney Hostutler, assistant stage manager; Dan Buck, an assistant professor of drama, Lee University, as improv coach; Phyllis Narus, box office manager; Judy Mellinger, hospitality manager; Terrie Kirkpatrick, costume designer; Rhonda Logsdon, coordinator of props.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a Tony-Award winning show that follows six adolescents (played by adults), each with their own idiosyncracies, in their quest to win the spelling championship, with a spelling bee panel determined to find a winner. This show brings together a very unusual cast of characters where the spelling bee might be the place where anyone can shine, but this bee breaks all the rules. As the show unfolds, however, the contestants learn, “That winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.”
Aside from the abundant hilarious moments, the show has a poignant side showing the emotional insight and personal struggles of the characters.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” production of Ocoee Theatre Guild is sponsored by R&M Yarns, 8510 Highway 60, Georgetown TN 37336. R&M Yarns has been in business since 1978 selling quality yarns of every kind at discount prices. Visit www.rmyarns.com.
The show opens in Cleveland at The Venue Creekside (in the Village Green area) on Sept. 12, with additional performances Sept. 13 and 14, as well as Sept. 19-21. Tickets are on sale now for $15, and discounted to $12 for seniors and students. Visit Facebook.com/ocoeetheatreguild.