, Newburyport, MA


June 19, 2014

Finding the right words

'Putnam County Spelling Bee' opens tonight at the Firehouse

Unexpectedly talented audience spellers could throw a curveball to the cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” opening tonight at the Firehouse Center for the Arts.

But the nine adult actors in the Tony-winning musical comedy about a middle school spelling bee are prepared and even looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s another thing that encourages us to be creative onstage,” said Nolan Murphy, who plays overzealous speller Leaf Coneybear.

On each night of the eight shows, four audience members will be selected to compete with the six other spellers in the fictional bee. Anyone interested in being part of the performance is encouraged to fill out a questionnaire beforehand, but those chosen will not find out until the moment they are called to the stage.

“It’s very ‘Price is Right,’” said Julie Schoenthal, who plays perfectionist Marcy Park.

Schoenthal said she believes that she and her fellow actors can make the audience participants comfortable enough to relax and contribute to the hilarious moments of the show.

“I’m hoping with our energy that they’ll be able to let go,” she said.

Of course, because an audience member can’t win the bee, the biggest challenge is to give each one “two or three kill words” to knock them out of the competition, director John Budzyna said. And the words given to audience members are different every night.

“It won’t be the same show every time. It will be slightly different,” Budzyna said. “Every show can be so unique based on the feedback from the audience. Live theater is the only place you can get that spontaneity.”

Budzyna is reteaming with musical director Alisa Helene Bucchiere for the show, which the two also helmed at Northern Essex Community College in 2010.

While the audience participants will bring different personalities to the stage each night, the six scripted contestants in the show each have their own distinct traits.

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