The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Some people like to sing along when they attend a musical.
But how would you like to spell along?
That’s the opportunity awaiting audience members at Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opens Sept. 9.
The musical is about six nerdy students who compete for the county spelling title — against each other, and alongside volunteers from the audience.
“It’s a very funny show, and every time you see it it’s different because there is audience participation,” said Mary Pyfferoen, who is directing the show for the Rep.
The show made its Broadway debut in 2005, and won two Tony Awards. The original cast recording was nominated for a Grammy Award. Songs include “My Friend, the Dictionary,” “I’m Not that Smart” and “My Favorite Moments of the Bee.”
The students range in age from 7 to about 12, Pyfferoen said. “They each have their unique abilities,” she said. One student is referred to as a political savant. Another is home-schooled and makes his own clothes. There’s also an over-achiever, the defending champion, and a student who spells “in a very unique way,” said Pyfferoen.
“The kids fit the stereotypes,” she said.
The student spellers are played by Jessica Schuler, Neal Abbott, Amanda Pyfferoen, Alicia Frarck, Ethan Savage and Philip Muehe. All are younger than 30, so it’s not a stretch for them to play kids of middle-school age competing in a spelling bee.
“You know, I think it’s a little bit freeing for them,” Pyfferoen said. “It’s not as restrictive.”
Also in the cast are John McDougall as the vice principal, Greg Strobl, and Melissa Adams-Goihl.
And don’t forget the guest spellers from the audience. If you’re one of them, a pocket dictionary might come in handy.
Rock of Ages
Here you thought the music of the 1980s was disposable and would mercifully be forgotten as soon as possible.
Guess again. “Rock of Ages,” a jukebox musical peppered with hits of the ‘80s by the likes of Twisted Sister, Poison, Journey, and other hair bands, was a huge hit on Broadway.
Now, “Rock of Ages” (which bears absolutely no relation to the great live album of the same title by The Band) is ready to open Sept. 9 at Rochester Civic Theatre.
“It’s great, broad fun, with the hits of the era,” said Greg Miller, who is directing the show. “The ‘80s were such a mixed bag of music. You had New Wave, glam rock, pop stars. It’s that era of rock videos and band images.”
And it’s coming to a stage near you, accompanied by songs like “Sister Christian,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “The Final Countdown,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Besides that, you get the crazy costumes.
“Obviously, you’ve got a whole decade to choose from,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of variation in haircuts, everything from mullets to big curly mops. You’ve got bandannas, head bands, sparkle in the hair.”
For all of that, though, “Rock of Ages” is an age-old tale. “The show is basically an old-fashioned musical,” Miller said. “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again.”
In casting the show, Miller said he looked for a couple of things. “You have to be able to sing these songs,” he said. “I think we’ve all found a new respect for rock songs. We say, ‘Oh my gosh, these are really high.’”
Secondly, he said, “You look for people who want to have uninhibited fun.”
Miller has cast Dylon Starr, Kasey Kuker (in her RCT debut), Blake Hogue and Cody Jensen in the four main roles. They’re backed by a five-piece rock band led by Greg Hintermeister.
They’re all ready to have, as Miller said, “just goofy fun.”