A school spelling bee hosted by a former victor with precocious and neurotic children as the competitors is a ripe idea for a musical comedy.
Throw in audience participation and some improv and you’ve got the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the final show of Western Canada Theatre’s 2011-2012 season.
Under the guidance of director Ashlie Corcoran, the traditionally stark theatre has been transformed into a school gym complete with wood panelling, a stage and basketball hoop.
The majority of the nine-actor cast plays the spellers, who each take the stage with their unique talent for spelling. The words are provided by hostess Rona Lisa Perretto, played by veteran WCT performer Meghan Gardiner.
“This whole thing is musical comedy at its best,” Gardiner said during a break from rehearsal.
“It’s all in real time. You watch the whole bee from beginning to end.”
As the bee unfolds, the audience is not only introduced to the six student spellers, but four lucky people a night are called on to take part in the bee as well.
This provides Gardiner the opportunity to flex her improvisational muscles as she interacts with the impromptu performers.
“They have to spell and my job is to introduce them with a history of their lives which I have to make up on the spot,” said Gardiner. “Hopefully it’s funny. The goal is to be funny.”
Improv is an important skill for any actor, especially when it comes to live theatre, she said. If an actor flubs a line, a performer’s improvisational skills are called upon to get the show on track.
Charles said Gardiner has the most improv of the cast, and the crew has brought in people to help her practise the audience-participation scenes.
Gardiner said those scenes will be a little scary.
“I am used to just learning all my lines and sticking to it,” she said.
The audience will be relieved to know they don’t have to perform a song and dance when they stand to spell. That’s not the case for the actors, who each have a routine to share.
Adam Charles plays Leaf Coneyber, who came in third out of three spellers at his county spelling bee. He is only able to attend Putnam County when the two spellers who bested him fall ill.
Leaf’s song is appropriately titled I’m Not That Smart, said Charles, who last performed in Kamloops with Project X’s rendition of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
During a sneak peek earlier this week, the media was treated to a number by Greg Armstrong-Morris, whose character William Barfee sang the praises of his magic foot.
His foot spells out the word on the stage, which he then reads to Perretto and the other judges.
As for Gardiner’s musical piece? She explains Perretto has been the host for nine years and is a previous victor. Suffice to say, she takes the bee very seriously.
“I am very, very proud to host the bee. This is like prom for me. It’s a very big deal,” said Gardiner.
Charles and Gardiner recently starred together in a production of Blood Brothers in Vancouver. They played mother and son in what the actors describe as a very dark drama.
Charles said it’s been a pleasure moving on to lighter material.
“It’s a blast,” he said. “It’s a totally new environment and light.”
And he’s confident there will be something for everyone in the audience to enjoy, whether he or she is a fan of musical comedy or not.
“I think there’s a character for everybody to kind of connect with,” said Charles.
WHAT: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
WHEN: April 19 to May 5
WHERE: Pavilion Theatre
TICKETS: Kamloops Live! Box Office, www.kamloopslive.com