Arundel Players’ first production for 2019 is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Kate Bennett, which opens on January 21 and runs until January 26 at The Priory Playhouse, London Road, Arundel, BN18 9FA.
The show is a musical comedy with a score by William Finn and a fast-paced, funny book by Rachel Sheinkin.
The show centres on a fictional spelling bee set in a geographically-ambiguous Putnam Valley Middle School.
An eclectic group of six mid-pubescents vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime, run by three equally-quirky grown-ups, which also includes audience participation.
“A friend of mine went to see it in Chicago and came back raving about it,” Kate says. “I bought the CD. This was some time ago but then the opportunity never came up until now.
“It’s a smaller theatre piece, and when Arundel Players said ‘Would you like to do the January slot?’ I thought of it. You could not do it in a big place. It is a niche piece for people who like musical theatre.
“I love small-cast shows. I like doing something without the huge ensemble. That’s one of the big attractions, and the songs are very character-driven.
“The adults are playing children, and these children go into a spelling bee which is something that is apparently very popular in America. Through the spelling bee, you see something of their background.
“It is fairly random when it is set. It is modern, and it is very American with American references.
“There are eight people in it, and as I said, it is very character driven.
“It is quite difficult for the actors do to, to be childlike. It is a balancing act.
“You don’t want them to come over as childish and for it then just to become silly.
“It has got to be very well acted.
“And then what it does through the piece is give you some idea how the children are how they are.
“You see the children and you get an idea of their parental background. Some of it is quite sad.
“One of them is always saving a seat for her father who never turns up, and so you see why the children are the way they are.
“It is funny, but it is also quite moving at times.
“The cast are doing very well. It is quite difficult musically. There are a lot of harmonies to learn when there are just six of them. It is not like being part of a big ensemble.
“Everything is down to you. But we are enjoying it, enjoying putting it together, and I am sure the audience will like it too.
“I love the venue. I don’t know anybody that has ever done a show there that does not love the venue.
“We rehearse there from day one.
“The set goes up around us quite early on, and the benefits of that are huge, actually being able to rehearse on the set.
“When you rehearse in a different room, moving to the theatre can be very difficult. It can make the technical side quite tricky.
“When you have rehearsed somewhere else, you can be quite thrown when you move onto the actual set, but with the set-up at Arundel, you can really save time.
“You are on the set already and it can all happen much more quickly.
“And also there is a feel about the Arundel Players that everybody loves. You can’t really put your finger on it but it becomes home. It feels comfortable, and then you feel really sad when you hand back the keys at the end of the production – and hope you can do another one!”
Performances start at 7.30pm from January 21 to 26. Tickets for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Priory Playhouse, London Road, Arundel, BN18 9FA cost £12 and are available from the box office on 07523 417926. To book on line visit www.arundelplayers.org.ukand follow the link or go to www.ticketsource.co.uk/arundelplayers.