Growing up the hard way… in the spotlight of a spelling bee



Growing up is hard—especially in middle school.

Audiences will get a chance this weekend to relive the difficulties of being a young teen in a modern world in the Bristol Eastern High School production of the musical comedy, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

The show follows six middle schoolers as they compete for the title of the best speller in the region.

“What the story does really well is it takes all these young kids and the problems they have as they’re growing up. In this innocent manner, they explore these problems. If they don’t solve them, they at least come to terms with them. In a way they’re growing up in this spelling bee,” said Alex Mika, who plays the role of some of the adults in the show— Vice Principal Douglas Panch and the father of competitive speller Olive Ostovsky.

“They (the middle schoolers) each bring their own troubles with them, with themselves, with their family… They find themselves through spelling,” said Emma Kelly, who plays Olive.

Emma said she does find some similarities between herself and her character Olive—who is a newcomer to spelling bees but fell in love with her dictionary at a young age. For instance, like Olive, Emma’s parents live separate lives in separate states (Olive’s mother has vacated to an ashram in India). Additionally, Emma said of Olive, “She’s very intelligent, very focused on words… and learning new things. I think I can relate to that because I really love to learn.”

Although Alex plays some of the adults in the BEHS production, he does share an affinity for the character Leaf Coneybear—who is homeschooled and comes from a family of hippies.

“He’s the zany one,” said Alex of Leaf. “He’s just loud and bright. He’s the optimist of the show. He may have problems but he really doesn’t bring them out in the story.”

“Spelling Bee” is a stage musical but both Emma and Alex said the songs are not what you would expect to find in a show.

“It’s really different,” said Alex about the music. “I’ve never come across another musical with this style because it’s not typical Broadway… Each (character’s songs have) their own musical feel to them.”

“Each (song) seems like a different style,” said Emma. Each style also is “meaningful to each character and their development,” said Emma.

Audiences will enjoy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Emma said, because it’s funny, dramatic, and sad all at the same time “There’s an overwhelming amount of emotion,” she said. “It’s very enjoyable to see.” Plus, said Emma, “Each character is likeable.”

“Each character offers some way that audience members can relate,” said Alex. “Each character has a different personality and a different life problem.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed May 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. and May 6 at 2 p.m. at Bristol Eastern High School, 632 King St., Bristol.

Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for seniors and staff, and $12 for general admission.

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