spelling bee
JUDGES AND SPELLERS — Rona Lisa Peretti (played by Sara Catherine Barnes) and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (C.J. Sikorski) judge spelling contestants Olive Ostrovsky (Jocelyn “Bee” Evans) and Chip Tolentino (Ryan Matthew Petty) in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This musical comedy is currently being performed at the Athens Theatre, 124 N. Florida Ave. in Downtown DeLand, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through June 12. PHOTOS COURTESY MIKE KITAIF

Six middle-schoolers tug tunefully on our heartstrings as they spell their ways through a ludicrous, r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s annual contest, appeal to our desires for all of them to win, and remind us that real problems, needs and fears lie just behind youthful, confident-looking faces. As each competes for the trophy, the audience learns more about the contestants through an array of songs that are full of heart and hilarity.

From the bashful (and possibly haunted) Leaf Coneybear (played by Ryan Blagg), the puberty-blighted defending spelling-bee champion Chip Tolentino (played by Ryan Matthew Petty, who wowed audiences in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), and the adorably shy Olive Ostrovsky (Jocelyn “Bee” Evans), to the endlessly anxious Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Chloe Ortega), all the spellers are outsiders at their respective schools. However, they are all united in their devotion to everything that falls between the covers of their holy Webster’s Dictionaries.

CRAZY COMPETITION — In a scene from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Olive Ostrovsky (played by Jocelyn “Bee” Evans), left, Chip Tolentino (Ryan Matthew Petty), right, and four other contestants battle to win the title of Spelling Bee Champion, while Vice Principal Douglas Panch (C.J. Sikorski) and Rona Lisa Peretti (Sara Catherine Barnes) attempt to keep control of the contestants and this crazy competition! The play runs through Sunday, June 12, at the Athens Theatre, 124 N. Florida Ave. in Downtown DeLand.

Whether you’re laughing at the smoke-shrouded arrival of Jesus Christ (also played by Ryan Matthew Petty), as he brings words of encouragement to the completely stressed-out and unbelievably overachieving Marcy Park (Maggie Brennan), or snickering at the smart-alecky high jinks of William Barfée (Danny Sanchez) and his “magic foot” technique, there’s not a dull moment to be found.

Assigned to supervise the spellers’ competition are three hilariously flawed adults — all considerably less mature than the competing youngsters.

With former spelling-bee champion and Putnam Valley’s No. 1 Realtor® Rona Lisa Peretti (played by Sara Catherine Barnes) fighting off the advances of Vice Principal Douglas Panch (C.J. Sikorski, who last impressed Athens theatergoers in Jekyll & Hyde and the co-directed Singin’ in the Rain), and the completely untrained yet official Comfort Counselor (and ex-convict) Mitch Mahoney (Gabriel Hannans, whom audiences have fawned over in Sister Act, Lion King and Ain’t Misbehavin’), these three keep the laughter rolling.

Adding to the hilarity are four actual audience members, who voluntarily join the cast and add some wild (and real) suspense to the contest.

Under Samantha Stern’s M-A-G-I-S-T-E-R-I-A-L (can I get a definition) direction, this show’s fast-paced, sidesplitting verbal pandemonium keeps audiences delighted.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 12, and with only eight performances, you won’t want to miss this funny and bee-utiful show.

Presented in association with Music Theatre International (MTI), this show is not recommended for audiences younger than age 13.

Tickets cost $31 for preferred reserved seating (rows A-F, orchestra and CC-DD center balcony), $26 for adults; $24 for senior citizens; $12 for students/children; and $22 per person for groups of eight or more. A $3-per-ticket processing charge will be added to each purchase.

All tickets are available online at the Athens Theatre website (www.AthensDeLand.com), or by calling the box office at 386-736-1500. Box-office hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 1 1/2 hours before live performances.

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