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SPG’s ‘Spelling Bee’ a ‘charming little show’

But don’t be surprised if you’re pulled out of the audience to show off your spelling prowess (or lack thereof)
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Sudbury Performance Group chases away the early-winter blahs with their family-friendly production of the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

The show runs Jan. 12 through 21 at Thorneloe University Theatre.

First running on Broadway in 2005, the musical comedy features music and lyrics by William Finn, based on a book by Rachel Sheinkin. The show won two Tony awards, and a Disney film adaptation is in the works.

The show centres on a fictional spelling bee set in a geographically ambiguous Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the bee, run by three equally quirky grown-ups.

“It’s just a charming little show that really speaks to both children and adults,” said Mark Mannisto, the show’s director.

Mannisto, who calls “Spelling Bee” his passion project, said the show was staged at Sudbury Theatre Centre many years ago, and that’s where he first saw it and fell in love with it.

The show relates to the insecurities we had back when we were kids, or the ones we continue to have as adults, he said.

“I think the spelling bee is just the backdrop of what the show is all about,” Mannisto said.

“It could be anything. It could be at your local hockey rink for tryouts for the local hockey team, or it can be at the dance studio for your dance recital. 

“It's all about the insecurities and the friendships that are made by the children by understanding each other's insecurities.”

The “Spelling Bee” show is heavy on audience participation, so don’t be surprised if you’re called up to spell during the show.

“So, in my opinion, another part of the charm of it all is we’re making this interactive for the audience,” Mannisto said. “The audience gets to see firsthand some of the trials and tribulations our middle school spellers are facing.”

While about middle school kids, the show’s cast doesn’t actually feature children. Jeff McNeil stars as Chip, Angel Mannisto as Leaf, Libble Michie as Marcy, Tara St. Pierre as Schwarzy, Sam Onski as Olive and Marc Taillefer as Barfee.

Tickets to “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” are available online here.

Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.