When characters in a musical comedy compete with audience members in a spelling bee, the result is an evening of improvised, unexpected entertainment, exactly what’s planned for in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Vashon High School’s spring musical opening this weekend.
The musical comedy is set in fictitious Putnam Valley Middle School, where six quirky adolescents participate in a spelling bee run by three equally unconventional adults. Add to the mix four volunteer audience members who join the actors to compete and test their own spelling prowess, and the fun begins.
That humorous competition, said director Stephen Floyd, is “the core of the show’s plot. Audience volunteers are encouraged to just be themselves on stage and … can always ask for a definition and a sentence using the word before they attempt to spell it. Many of the show’s jokes are in the definitions and sentences provided.”
The musical hit Broadway in 2005 and garnered six nominations and two Tony Awards, including Best Book by Rachel Sheinkin. The show’s mastermind was Rebecca Feldman with help from Jay Reiss. The music and lyrics were written by William Finn.
Maggie Laird is the music director for the high school production.
Aside from the obvious humor that the unusual plot generates, the show carries a deeper meaning as well. As in the past, Floyd chose the show in light of its message for high school students.
“My working concept is that this musical is about what it feels like to be different” he said. “The characters who compete in the spelling bee are a quirky group of mostly misfit children who have few friends and varying degrees of parental support (or neglect), and whose talents and interests make them stand out even more as outcasts. Through the course of the play, whether they win or lose, all of the spellers learn something valuable about themselves and their place in the world.”
On Friday, opening night, the Vashon Schools Foundation will sponsor a “Family Feast” dinner fundraiser before the show. Two other benefits will include one for the VHS class of 2019 and the Vashon Rotary. The two organizations “choose” audience volunteers to compete in the spelling bee.
Due to some sexually suggestive lyrics and occasional mild profanity, the show is rated PG-13.