'Spelling Bee' musical goes to head of class in Windham
By APRIL GUILMET Union Leader Correspondent
Members of the Windham Actors Guild got into character during a recent rehearsal of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” From left are Dan Pelletier, Aaron Foss, Derek Deblois, Allison Rigg, Jolie Nadeau, Emily Fitzgerald and Keith Strang. (APRIL GUILMET)
WINDHAM — Eight area actors will rise to the challenge during the Windham Actors Guild’s upcoming performances of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Playing the role of middle-school students presents some unique challenges to cast members, who range in age from their mid-teens to early 30s.
“This is a musical that’s all about taking a look back at the heartbreak and the awkwardness of being that age,” producer Heidi Newkirk said. “And I think that’s something all of us can relate to.”
Manchester resident Derek Deblois, 21, said playing the role of allergy-ridden 12-year-old William Barfee has long been a dream. Deblois, a recent Southern New Hampshire University graduate who works for the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation by day, said he was pretty close to his character’s age when he began acting.
“William is the living definition of a nerd,” Deblois said. “He’s someone that’s been bullied his whole life, who looks to the spelling bee as his first opportunity to succeed.”
At 22, Derry resident Allison Rigg is also a decade older than the character she plays.
Rigg, a Columbia University graduate with a 19-month-old daughter, studied theater in college, though motherhood and her career working with autistic children had kept her away from the stage until recently.
Playing the role of overachieving preteen Marcy Park gives her the chance to “be a know-it-all.”
“I’m definitely not like her in real life,” laughed Rigg, who described herself as young-at-heart and who had to learn to juggle for her role. “But it’s a lot of fun being 12 years old again.”
Aaron Foss, 33, has one of the show’s few adult roles.
As “Official Comfort Counselor” Mitch Mahoney, the Salem resident incites laughter with his portrayal of the ex-convict, who is performing his community service by handing out juice boxes to losing students.
“Mitch gets some of the best songs,” said Foss, a 15-year veteran of local theater and freelance writer by trade.
Hampstead’s Jolie Nadeau, 16, said she was initially hesitant to audition for the role of Logainne SchwarzandGrubenieere.
Nadeau had never acted before, but after a little coercion from fellow cast member (and classmate) Emily Fitzgerald, decided to give it her best shot.
Landing the role of the precocious 9-year-old has proven a satisfying experience, she said.
“I’m often mistaken for a 9-year-old,” Nadeau laughed.
Fellow Hampstead resident Fitzgerald plays Olive Ostrovsky, a fledgling spelling bee contestant addicted to her dictionary.
“Olive is a girl who just loves the English language,” said Fitzgerald, 16. “I can personally relate to her clumsiness and a bit of her awkwardness.”
Music director Keith Strang, an engineer by day, said “Spelling Bee’s”s upbeat soundtrack gives all cast members the chance to shine.
“Musicals are always an ambitious endeavor, even the smaller ones,” the Windham resident said. “Having the show actually take place in an elementary school was also a challenge, but the setting was too perfect to pass up.”
Auburn resident Dan Pelletier, who earned his theater degree at the University of New Hampshire in 2013, said the musical marks his directorial debut.
Pelletier said the show appeals to a widespread audience because it’s so unique and quirky.
“It’s a great story with a lot of heart,” he said. “Every character has their own unique tale to tell.”
Performances of the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will take place Nov. 21-23 at Windham Center School, located at 19 Haverhill Road. Friday and Saturday performances will begin at 7 p.m., with a Sunday matinee scheduled for 2 p.m.
General admission tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors and members of the military.
For more information call 247-8634 or visit www.windhamactorsguild.com.