How funny can it be to watch six achieving pre-teens at a rural spelling bee in fictional Putnam County? The answer is in the experience of the Sierra Repertory Theatre's musical comedy of "The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." The play is running until Nov. 23 at SRT's East Sonora theatre venue.
Scott Viets, the producer of the show, said the different personalities and quirks of the contestants is "what drives the show."
Audiences quickly can see that each of the contestants is dealing with insecurities and problems that they try to mask as junior highers.
Spontaneity is also a key ingredient to the frolicks and laughter. During each performance, four audience members are invited on stage to compete in the bee alongside the six characters. This guarantees that no two productions are the same.
"You don't know what's going to happen. A big part of this show is spontaneity."
He added that audiences love the Tony-award winning show because it's "youthful, and it's silly and fun."
The Putnam Valley Middle School students are all unique. Marcy is an uptight All-American hockey player who speaks six languages and brags to only sleep three hours per night. Olive Ostrovsky has a father who can't be at the bee because he's working late. With only one working nostril and a touchy personality, William Barfée draws laughter from his unique style of spelling out words. Leaf Coneybear, a homeschooled speller, comes from a large family of hippies who make their own clothes. He lives in his own world and spells words in a trance.
"I just love the show," said actor Peter Leibold VI who plays Coneybear. "I love the characters, I love the audience participation, I love the music."
"It's one of my favorite shows and Olive is one of my favorite characters," said Elizabeth McMonagle, the actress who plays her. "She's got so much optimism and she's so goofy. I feel like she's that weird kid from school who has such great spirit and nothing knocks her down."
Audience members should be ready to laugh, she said.
"It's such an amazing show in the sense that it's non-stop jokes. You're able to identify with at least one of the spellers, if not all of them. You'll come away thinking the spellers are your friends."
The music is enjoyable and includes such titles as "My Friend, the Dictionary," "I'm Not that Smart" and "I Speak Six Languages."
The show is recommended for ages 13 and older because of some occasional raunchy humor.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs Oct. 24-Nov. 23 at East Sonora, located at 13891 Mono Way. Most Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. General admission ranges from $26 to $32. The show is rated PG-13.
For more information, a detailed content advisory or reservations, call Sierra Rep's box office at 532-3120 or visit Sierra Rep at www.sierrarep.org.