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Milton Presents The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

October10 2011

Spelling BeeH-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. That’s what Milton’s fall musical promises to be.

The Tony Award-winning comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee chronicles six overachievers in the throes of puberty, as they vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. For this quirky and charming cast of outsiders, the spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time. Competition, as they prove, can bring out the best and the worst in people.

Milton’s production of the play is co-directed by performing arts faculty members Kelli Edwards and Robert Saint Laurence ’07.

“This show is smaller than our last musical [Chicago],” Kelli says, “but we’ve realized that doesn’t make it any less difficult or complex.” 

View photos of the performance.

“Every number seems like a show-stopper,” Robert adds.

The cast includes a mix of Class III through I students, some of whom are brand new to the Milton stage.

“This show involves character acting, which is different from what some of the students are used to,” Robert says. “The characters are in middle school—and the actors were middle-schoolers at one point—but the roles are comedic, exaggerated, almost cartoon-like.”

“The challenge,” Kelli says, “is that the emotions underneath have to be real. The characters are very comedic in nature, but they are each dealing with some very sad truths, as well. They’re dealing with the tribulations of growing up, some dealing with difficult family situations.”

“It’s a densely-written script, which offers us a lot in the way of fleshing out the characters,” says Robert.

“The music is wonderful, and deceptively hard,” Kelli says. Louise Mundinger of the music department is leading the students in the production’s score, which includes some very complex harmonies. “That’s the gift of the modern composer,” Robert says. “Obscure sounds.”

The students also have to rely on improvisation during the show, which was an element of their audition process. Part of the magic of the production is that every show includes audience participation. Before each performance, four willing volunteers from the audience are recruited to participate on-stage as guest spellers. Each new foursome guarantees a different set of unexpected experiences. The students have to be able to creatively adapt to that, and quickly.

“It’s a sweet, upbeat show,” Kelli says. “Though there are some sad truths within it, it’s really optimistic, and just a lot of fun.”

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee takes over King Theatre on Thursday, November 3 and Friday, November 4 at 7:30 p.m., and on Saturday, November 5 at 7 p.m.