by Lorraine Payette, written on July 24, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) “The word is …”
The sweating, the tooth grinding, the agony, and… the right answer!
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee throws you right back through time, back to when lunch was fine if it was peanut butter and jam on white bread with a big glass of milk. Back to play yards and school bullies and whispering secrets with your best friends. Back to being 10- or 11- or 12- years old. Back to spelling bees, and all they could really mean.
Directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran, this hilarious musical follows six child contestants and three adults through the arduous process of competing in the annual spelling bee, a big step on the ladder of heading to Washington, DC, for a chance to compete in the nationals. A Tony Award winning show, it invites four members of the audience to join the cast at each performance as they get up on the bleachers, put on their sweaters, and spell like they’ve never spelled before.
“This show is different from most theatre out there,” said Corcoran. “It not only gives the audience a chance to become part of the show, but counts on improvisations worked into each performance. The characters become more alive as the actors have to figure out how they would respond to each new situation. For example, each contestant has their own way of remembering how to spell words. Some might write on their hands, or wear a lucky shirt – one spells things out with his foot. It can get pretty crazy.”
Three faces in the cast will be familiar to Playhouse fans, while the remaining six are new to the Gananoque theatre scene. Kristin Galer (playing Rona Lisa Peretti), Alison MacDonald (Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre), and Piper Goodeve (Olive Ostrovsky) have all played here before. Fresh faces include Eric Morin (Chip Tolentino), Andrew Kushnir (Leaf Coneybear), Nicole Norsworthy (Marcy Park), Michael-Lamont Lytle (Mitch Mahoney), Michael Spencer-Davis (Vice Principal Douglas Panch), and Benjamin Kyte (William Barfée), all of whom light up the stage and add to the high levels of energy the play exudes.
“I am acting dance captain on this production,” says Norsworthy. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun. I play Marcy Park, a girl who comes from a family that expects greatness in everything they do. Fortunately, that comes easily to her, but a conflict comes in when she learns that she’s doing this not because she loves it, but because it’s expected of her. It isn’t until later that the audience discovers that she’s good at many things, but she doesn’t necessarily love them all.”
Norsworthy finds it funny watching the actors learning their roles. Although everyone draws from inside to help create a character, most of the characters are quite different from the people playing them, and this can cause a lot of laughter as the show comes together.
“I come from a heavy dance background and get to explore a lot of that through the show,” she says. “Working with everyone has been fantastic. And I really love the support that the Town of Gananoque gives to the Playhouse. Everywhere you go, there are signs and posters and promotions for the shows. I’ve never seen any other town support its playhouse that way.”
Michael Spencer-Davis, who plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, is really enjoying himself.
“I think it’s a marvellous show,” he says. “I saw it with my family in New York eight years ago. My son, then 12, fell out of his chair laughing. He could really identify with the characters.
“I play the Vice Principal, who is the word pronouncer for the show. He really doesn’t want to be there, but he has a crush on Ms Peretti. He’s reached that depressing point in his career where he knows he will never be anything more than a vice principal, that he will never advance, and that he may not even hold on to what he has.”
Spencer-Davis says he has never been a song and dance man, and the opportunity to work around all this talent truly amazes him. He happily admits he’s looking forward to the audience participation.
“I have to pick words and sentences appropriate to them,” he says. “It makes it all that much more interesting.”
He is also amazed by Gananoque. An avid sailor and outdoors enthusiast, he can hardly wait for a chance to rent a boat and then go out and try some of the hiking trails in the area.
“I love the location right here on the St. Lawrence River,” he says. “The chance to get out and explore it all is going to be truly wonderful.”
Created by the team of Rachel Sheinkin, William Finn, Rebecca Feldman and Jay Reiss, the play reminds everyone of just what it was like to try to grow up and fit in while competing in an academic environment.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be running at the Springer Theatre in Gananoque from August 2 – August 31. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Wednesday after opening night). Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, $16 for students, with a half price preview on August 2 (HST will be added to all prices). Group tickets are available at $26 – $28 each including GST.
For more information or to buy tickets, please go to http://www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.