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L.A. Beat

Hatrix has some fun spelling in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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Who would have thought spelling could be fun? H-a-t-r-i-x-t-h-e-a-t-r-e That’s who.Jillian Novak rehearses for the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Richard Amery
 The Lethbridge theatre company opened  “ the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” for a two week run, May 10.
 “The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”  is a musical about a group of quirky third graders competing in a spelling bee while dealing with their personal issues,  overbearing parents and temperamental principal. It has some mature content but it is also a hilarious night at the theatre which  takes a friendly and whimsical look back at the trials and tribulations of childhood, school and competitions.

 An experienced cast consisting of University of Lethbridge professors, recent drama graduates and familiar faces from the Lethbridge drama scene and volunteers from the audience, tap into their inner 12-year-olds with gusto and aplomb.
The cast, including Jeff Charlton, Gail Hanrahan, Jory Kohn, Andrew Legg, Doug MacArthur,  Jillian Novak, Ryan Novak, Pat Piekma and Aiden Quinn, gleefully and completely embrace their characters.

The audience recognizes these kids- the overachieving Marcy Parks, the boy scout Chip Tolentino, the good girl with absentee parents Olive Ostrovsky, the psychosomatic, obsessive compulsive with the “magic foot ” science geek William Barfee, the moral activist Logaine Schwarzandgrubinierre and the lovably weird, innocent nature lover Leaf Coneybear.

 All of them have their “aaaaaawwwwwweee” moments  throughout. You just want to take their inner child and hug the hell out of them.

And when you’re on stage with them, they don’t break their characters even when making you dance and prod you to get up to the mic to spell as they did with me on opening night. Because there is audience participation, it is a different show every night. Contestants  spell simple words, complicated words and words I think the “principal” just made up. The last audience contestant is eliminated by the end of the first act, allowing them to return their seats and enjoy the rest of the show.

Pat Piekema and Ryan Novak rehearse for the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by Richard Amery
The adults are also sympathetic characters. Pat Piekma, Andrew Legg and Doug MacArthur are double cast as parents of a couple of the kids. Andrew Legg is triple cast as one half of the overbearing, hyper-competitive homosexual parents of Logaine  and sings in the shadows as the railroading father of  Olive. He is most hilarious as  the biker Mitch, the school’s comfort counsellor, always quick with a hug and a juice box as the cast sing goodbye every time a contestant is eliminated. Aiden Quinn is double cast  as the horny boy scout Chip as well as Jesus who “doesn’t care about things like spelling bees” who helps resolve Marcy’s inner conflict of being a winner take all alpha and just being happy.

More importantly, they are hilarious but they also simultaneously tug at the old heart strings, especially Jillian Novak who is sadly adorable as Olive, constantly wondering if her absentee parents will make it to the Bee.

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.

 Tonight (May 12) is  a comp night  for past and present cast and crew members of Hatrix Theatre. Donations are being taken for Fort McMurray fire evacuees.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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