Nerdlinger. N-E-R-D-L-I-N-G-E-R. Nerdlinger. Not to be found on the pages of the dictionary, perhaps, but certainly in abundance on the stage of the Registry Theatre this weekend and next as JM Drama presents The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Set in a school gymnasium, the play is a heartwarming look at the pressures of growing up through the eyes of quirky yet lovable characters – misfits, nerds, neurotics –competing for the title of spelling bee champ.
It’s billed as a hip musical comedy which follows six young people in the throes of puberty, who are overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, as they learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.
During the course of the competition, we get to know more about the six contestants, their lives, histories, problems and desires – all to great comic effect, says the production’s director.
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“These six misfit children – played by adults – make for a lot of laughs,” said Allan Hoch. “This musical is very suitable for people who don’t call themselves musical theatre buffs. It’s very light and funny fare.”
A Tony Award winner, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is based on C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original play by The Farm Improv Group in New York City. It officially opened Off-Broadway in 2005, moving to Broadway later that year.
The musical’s improv roots are part and parcel of the production, as each performance involves some audience participation: there’s a point where some audience members are asked to come up and take part in the bee. It’s an element that lends an element of uncertainty to all of Hoch’s preparations.
“You never know what’s going to happen. That will keep the actors on their toes every night,” he said. “The improve aspect is always going to be amusing.”
The 14 cast members certainly have their work cut out for them. Light and comedic though it is, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’s musical score is a challenging one, Hoch said, lauding the songs as well-written and catchy. Audience members will be humming them long after the curtain falls.
For the performers, the music offers no place to coast – “they’ve got to hit the notes just right” – and the cast has been spot-on, he added.
“They’re all very good singers, good entertainers”
As for the choreography, well, it involves adults dancing like kids. Very nerdy kids. Let’s just say the laughs come naturally.
In preparing for this week’s opening, Hoch has relied heavily on musical director Martin Lacoste, who performs with his four piece rock band, and choreographer Jennifer Wright.
It’s a combination that’s kept him laughing all through the rehearsal phase of the production. The lighthearted musical is a shift from the last three years of summer offering from JM Drama, which featured Urinetown, Sweeney Todd and Cabaret.
Seeking a change of pace, Hoch suggested The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for this year’s production.
“I chose this because we needed something light to do after three years of dark shows,” he explained.
Due to some of the themes touched on in the show, parental guidance of the PG-13 variety is advised.
The JM Drama production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs Aug. 11-13 and Aug. 18-20 at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $18-$22, available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com.