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'Spelling Bee' kicks off season

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 7:58 a.m.

The cast of Mon River Arts' Mainstage production is busy putting the finishing touches on their lines — actually, their words — for the season-opening “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Curtain time at the Grand Theatre in Elizabeth is 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Oct. 4 and 5; and 2 p.m. on Sunday and Oct. 6.

Director Stephen Santa said the show takes the audience through a spelling bee from start to finish.

“The show centers around an annual spelling bee for children, but the kids — each unique in their own way — are played by adults. You will see the spelling bee played out from start to finish,” he said.

Santa said there are hundreds of words that can be used in the show. “What's unique is that different words are used each night.”

That's not the only unique aspect of the production, the director said, noting audience participation is a key factor, even joining in the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the bee.

Four audience members will take part in the spelling bee. “They are actually members of the competition,” he said. “They even are asked to take part in the songs and dances. It's a really fun time.”

So audience members are not put on the spot, volunteers are sought as they enter the theater, the director said. A cast member will be in the lobby asking for volunteers and interviewing perspective contestants.

“You have to be willing and want to be a part of the show,” Santa said. “There is absolutely no pressure put on the audience to take part.”

Because of the different words and contestants for each show, it can be a challenge for the cast. “They never know what is going to happen,” Santa said. “The actors have to be on their toes and ready for whatever happens next because it's always a different show each night.”

Another challenge, he said, is for the performers not to get caught up in the humor of what's taking place and break character by laughing.

“This show is absolutely hilarious so for them not to laugh is not always easy. Every word chosen is a joke-word, with the language of origin, definitions and its use in a sentence,” he said.

The show is not new to Santa, who was in a production of “Spelling Bee” a few years ago. This is his directorial debut for the production, which started as a non-musical play called “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E” and done by the improvisational group The Farm.

After it was transformed into a musical, the show had its first full production in the summer of 2004. “Spelling Bee” was a hit at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre, breaking box office records before moving to Broadway's Circle on the Square on May 2, 2005, and winning two Tony Awards.

Santa directed “Godspell” at the Elizabeth theater in the spring. After “Spelling Bee” he will direct a staged reading of “The Pirate's Tale” by a local playwright on Sept. 30 at Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie, then direct Duquesne University's “Footloose” at Spotlight Theatre in November.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or