(Posted October 11, 2010)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- H-u-m-o-r-o-u-s. T-o-u-c-h-i-n-g. Can you spell must-see theatre? Juniata College will stage "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a 2005 Tony Award winner for Best Book, from Oct. 21 and Oct 23-24 through Oct. 28-30 in the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts.

Showtimes for the musical will be at 7:30 p.m. all days. There will be 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Oct. 24 and on Saturday, Oct. 30. Tickets for the production are $7 for adults and $4 for students with I.D. The musical is generally family-friendly, but there are aspects of the show that might offend families with children under age 15. Tickets are available online at http://www.juniata.edu/departments/theatre.

"It's a wonderful show . It's a laughter-driven piece that is also really touching."

Kate Clarke, assistant professor of theatre

Set in a junior high school gym in fictional Putnam County, the musical follows the trials and tribulations of six spelling bee contestants as they compete for the crown of best speller. In Juniata's production, guest spellers also will be recruited from the audience before the start of the show and will be given real spelling words.

"It's a wonderful show . It's a laughter-driven piece that is also really touching," says Kate Clarke, assistant professor of theatre and director of the production.

The play follows the lives of all six central contestants and uses fantasy staging to dramatize the hopes and aspirations of each contestant. The funny and sometimes poignant musical numbers are interspersed in all aspects of the play. "Of course the dramatic tension comes from who is going to win the spelling bee," Clarke says.

The spelling bee is run by three adult characters, the host of the bee, a comfort counselor and the middle school's assistant principal. The play was conceived by Rachel Feldman and the songs were written by William Finn.

Juniata's production features technical and artistic production from several members of The Gravity Project, the college's professional theatre collaborative. Set design is by John Teacher, a freelance theatre designer based in Latrobe, Pa. Jennifer Paar, a freelance designer in theatre, film and opera, did the play's costume design. Lighting design for the production is by Dominic Chacon, based in Philadelphia.

The music director for the production is Terry Murray, a longtime member of the Juniata music faculty and a performer in her own right with her husband, Andy Murray. Most recently, Terry Murray acted as music director for a Blues Brothers performance at Juniata's All Class Night.

Director Kate Clarke, assistant professor of theatre and a member of the Gravity Project, has been a member of the Gravity Project since 2007 and directed the college's production of "Angels in America" in October 2008.

She earned a bachelor's degree in 1990 at Oberlin College and went on to earn a master's of fine arts degree in 2000 from the University of Washington. She has taught acting and other theatre classes at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. and at CUNY Hunter College. As an actress, she has appeared in such plays as "But I'm a Cheerleader," "Bitter Suite" and "Stop." She also has acted in several television series, including "Third Watch," "Northern Exposure" and "Medicine Ball."

The cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is as follows: Andrew Orsie, a junior from Summit Point, W.Va.; Sara Lucchini, a freshman from Northborough, Mass.; Kevin Whitmire, a junior from Enola, Pa.; Gary Shoemaker, a freshman from Summerdale, Pa.; Anna Henzy, a sophomore from East Falls, Pa.; Sue Makosky, a junior from Greensburg, Pa.; Kaitlyn Shultz, a sophomore from Johnstown, Pa.; Ben Mahan, a sophomore from Havertown, Pa.; and Nate Frieswyk, a junior from Bel Air, Md.

A "chorus" for the production, called "The Glee Club" are: Lauren Hitzhusen, a freshman from Houston, Texas; Sara Deppenbrook, a sophomore from Beaver Falls, Pa.; Kaetlyn Kuchta, a sophomore from Shickshinny, Pa.; Zach Strouse, a freshman from Lock Haven, Pa.; Erik Dulick, a senior from Hummelstown, Pa.; and Chris Ingersoll, a freshman from West Chester, Pa.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.