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Spelling bee to take center stage in ABC Players production

While the phrase “act your age” may be used frequently, it is one that is discouraged in a new show put on by ABC Players.

Saturday, the troupe will present The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Sylvia Abbot.

The show chronicles the process of a small-town spelling bee and its unusual participants, including an overly hyper boy who dons a cape and a helmet and a second-grade lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and pro-choice activist. Adults portraying children play most of the characters.

“Because the actors would be playing children, I focused on those who could move and speak well during auditions,” Abbot said.

Because all of the actors have long since graduated the fourth grade, this musical provides an acting challenge unlike any other, said Chris Coleman, who plays Leaf Coneybear, one of the participants in the bee.

“Leaf is so happy and innocent and he wants everyone to win and sees the good in all things,” Coleman said. “I am much more sarcastic than my character. That can be a struggle to make sure that doesn't show.”

Though some actors found it challenging to stretch their ages, Linda Watkins, who plays Rona Lisa Peretti, the host of the bee, found that even playing a part closer to her age had its own challenges.

“I've been in many musicals, but this is probably one of the most difficult,” Watkins said. “It seems, at least to me, that the musicals that have been written in recent years are more complex than the earlier musicals.”

One thing that seems to add to the complexity of the show, Coleman said, is the fact that many of the actors play more than one character. Actors playing characters participating in the bee play second roles as family members of other contestants during flashback sequences.

“The flashes into the characters’ lives show a little more about the characters than general ensemble shows get to do, Coleman said. “Playing multiple characters adds to doing different things.”

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