HCT’s ‘25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ a blast

PUHI — Don’t forget a dictionary for Hawai‘i Children’s Theatre’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The Tony Award-winning musical about six middle-school spellers (and a few guest audience spellers) opened Thursday at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.

Director Jennifer Downs, who directed Disney’s “Aladdin, Jr.” and appeared in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and “Dearly Beloved,” brings hilarity to center stage in this quirky musical.

“Last year, we did ‘RENT,’ which was an amazing but heavy show,” Downs said. “This is a light, fun comedy.”

In “Spelling Bee,” six awkward middle-school spellers vie for a chance to win a trip to the national spelling bee ompetition.

The overachievers are an eclectic bunch. There’s newcomer Olive Ostrovsky, former spelling bee finalist William Barfee, the politically-aware Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, multilinguist Marcy Park, a home-schooled Leaf Coneybear and Boy Scout and current champion Chip Tolentino.

They are overseen by three equally quirky adults: Former spelling bee champion Rona Lisa Peretti (Maile Speetjens), Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Chris Alderete) and Mitch Mahoney (Billy Quebido), the official comfort counselor.

“It’s comedy that I think everyone is going to connect with on some level, because we were all middle school kids at one point,” Downs said. “It’s mostly about that winning isn’t everything. A lot of the comedy comes from the words. Instead of a normal spelling bee, the definitions and sentences are more geared toward comedy.”

The cast of “Spelling Bee” is made up of nine HCT alumni and high school graduates who are studying theater.

Downs, an HCT alumna herself, said many students who graduate from HCT’s Summer Stars program want to continue perform live theater.

“We’ve had so many kids coming back who wouldn’t be able to do a show, so we created something with a professional atmosphere,” she said.

Each night of “Spelling Bee” is sure to deliver a unique performance because local guest spellers, and a few surprised audience members, will join the cast on stage.

The guest speller for today’s performance is esteemed actor/director Arnold Meister, who will also be returning for the July 23 show. Malama Pono co-workers Faith Harding and DQ Jackson will square off during the Saturday performance.

Ross Martineau and Jeff Demma, co-owners of 17 Palms Kaua‘i Vacation Cottages, and former Mayor and  current County Council member JoAnn Yukimura (she was the first mayor to financially support HCT) compete during Sunday’s show.

Other guest spellers include Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Carol Yotsuda of the Garden Island Arts Council, council members Nadine Nakamura and Kipukai Kuali‘i, Lisa Ledesma and Kaua‘i School District Superintendent Bill Arakaki.

Nina Saraos lends her talents as musical director and Marc Sicignano choreographs.

Catch performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse. The show closes July 31.

HCT rated the production PG-13 for adult language and content. The musical lasts about an hour and 45 minutes and includes an intermission.

General admission is $25 and student and senior tickets are $20. Reservations are encouraged. Visit www.hawaiichildrenstheatre.org to make reservations or for more information.

•Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.

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