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Experienced cast to make Hatrix's the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a winner

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Several University of Lethbridge professors get to walk the walk on stage for Hatrix Theatre’s upcoming production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which runs at the Moose Hall 10 - 14 & 17 - 21.
 The musical is about an eclectic group of sixth graders coming from different  backgrounds who all want to win the Bee for their own reasons.Gail Hanrahan and Douglas MacArthur rehearse the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Richard Amery
The local theatre company has lined up a high powered cast to perform the 2005 Tony Award winning musical comedy by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin.

“I truly believe the audience will be well entertained by this one,” said director Brian Quinn who is pleased to have four professional actors on stage.

“It makes it easier on me when I can just hand the reins over to them and ask them what they can do with this for the audience. It has been a busy time at the university so there has been some bumps getting them to get to rehearsals. But it’s a minor issue. I’m pretty confident,” Quinn continued, noting advance tickets for the show are going very slowly.

“There is not a weak member of this cast,” he enthused.
 The cast includes University of Lethbridge drama department voice teacher Douglas MacArthur,  U of L advanced acting prof Gail Hanrahan plus recent U of L drama graduate Ryan Novak, his wife Jillian Novak, recent graduate Jeff Charlton, veteran New West Theatre performer Jory Kohn, Andrew Legg, who has performed with Shakespeare in The Park in Lethbridge as well as on the TV show Hell on Wheels and the Duck Variations from the One Act Play Festival this year and last year’s Lethbridge Fringe Festival, plus Quinn’s son Aiden Quinn, who has been in several Hatrix productions including Avenue Q, The Evil Dead the musical and Spamalot, plus Quinn’s wife Pat Piekema, who has done a lot of work with the Lethbridge Symphony.

They also have an experienced backstage crew including set designer Brent DeVos and his wife Juanita as stage manager.  U of L prof and New West veteran Bente Hansen as musical director and choreographers Mark Litchfield and Candy Chiselle -Williams.

“For a musical, there’s not a lot of choreography and the set is minimal,” Quinn said.
“Which isn’t to say we’re curtailing the visual aspect. We’re focusing on the costumes,” he continued.
 Quinn said Jory Kohn brought the musical to his attention.

“I knew we could stage it at the Moose Hall and once I got the CD and had a listen, it resonated,” he said.
Several of the cast members are double cast as parents of the children competing in the Spelling Bee.
Audience members are able to “compete” in the Bee as well.

“There’s no agenda. And they’re all volunteers, so the show is different every night. If they’re good spellers they could be there until the end,” Quinn said.
Doug MacArthur is playing Spelling Bee participant Leaf Coneybear.

“He’s home schooled and has several siblings with organic sounding names. He has a lot of energy and can’t focus. He’s also really creative and always doing his own thing,” MacArthur described.
“He’s the third runner up and is only there because the other two people couldn’t attend,” he continued, adding it’s been fun playing a hyperactive 12-year-old.

“So he’s like five years younger than I am,” MacArthur chuckled, noting his own children are 18 and 21, so he drew a lot of Leaf from watching his own children growing up.
 He also plays one half of a gay couple who are the parents of one of the other competitors.

“It has been a challenge (playing two characters) but they are two really different characters,” said MacArthur who auditioned for the play at the urging of fellow cast mate and faculty member Gail Hanrahan.

“Hatrix has been doing a lot of contemporary musicals and I haven’t done a musical for like 25 years, so when Gail told me about auditions, I knew I wanted to be involved. I don’t often get to do something like this,” he said.

“It’s good to put myself out there and practice walking the walk.”

Douglas MacArthur looks for a cue with music director Bente Hansen during rehearsals for the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Richard Amery
Andrew Legg is excited to be part of  the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

“I play Mitch. He’s the comfort counsellor. He gives them a big hug and a juice box  if they lose,” said Legg, who didn’t have to shave his big, bushy beard for the show.

“That was part of my rider,” he laughed. He also plays Doug MacArthur’s other half.

“We get to play that show mom character. We’re more about winning. So being able to play that kind of adult is fun,” Legg said.

He found the characters in the play to be compelling.

“It feels like you know these people. They are kind of outsiders. But if you went to school, you either knew these kids, or you were these kids,” he described.

“As soon as it was brought to my attention, I knew I wanted to be part of it,” Legg said.

“ It reminds you what it is like to be 11-years-old,” Legg added.

“People will be entertained,” he said.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs at 8 p.m. May 10-14 and 17-21.
Tickets are available at Blueprint Records downtown  403-320-8333. Doors open at 7 p.m. There will be a cash bar.

A version of this story appears in the May 4, 2016 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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