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Music Theater Works presents ‘Putnam Spelling Bee’ in Skokie

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Knees are trembling and palms are sweating as the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” contest, held March 6-31 at Music Theater Studies at the North Shore Performing Arts Center in Skokie, gets underway.

Performances of the musical, whose book is written by Rachel Sheinkin and whose music and lyrics belong to William Finn, are on Wednesdays (except March 27) at 14.00; Thursdays at 19:30 (March 7 and 28 only); Fridays at 19.30 (except 8 March 19.00); Saturdays 19.30; Sundays at 14:00; 6 March 19:30; and March 16 at 2 p.m.

“I saw the original production on Broadway and immediately fell in love,” said director and choreographer Christopher Pazdernik. “All these characters, especially the kids, are very relatable because they want it so bad and they’ve worked so hard for it, and I think that’s something that’s very easy for anyone to relate to, understanding that hard work doesn’t always pay off. It means you won. But that doesn’t mean your hard work is wasted. “I think there are many life lessons hidden in this play.”

Pazdernik also praised the “infectious” score.

He said the musical’s biggest challenge for Pazdernik was that “every night we invited four strangers from the audience onto the stage.”

It’s something Rachel Guth, who plays Olive Ostrovsky, can relate to, too.

“When I was a kid, I saw the Broadway production of ‘Spelling Bee,’ and I was audience spelling in that,” Guth said. “It was so much fun. I was 9 years old with my grandparents, who loved theater and loved me. They were so excited. I remember it fondly.”

Guth described Olive as someone who is often alone: ​​”So she’s got a great imagination and a love of words, and she’s so excited to make friends, even though she doesn’t know how.”

The spelling bee is a great outlet for Olive. “Because he gets so lonely, his best friend is a dictionary,” Goth explained. “He’s a little shy at first, but actually he’s a silly kid and wants to make connections.”

The actor said he is a big reader who loves language as much as his character.

Joe Lewis, who plays Leaf Coneybear, wasn’t in the spelling bee, but he does have a strong connection to bees.

“I’m a middle school teacher, so every year I’m the spelling person at my school,” Lewis said. “I read the words and use them in sentences, giving their definitions and origin language. This is really ’25. “The ‘Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ allows me to live out my fantasy on the other side of the table.”

Lewis stated that he played one of the most interesting characters in the musical. “He may seem happy all the time, but I think he has a lot of anxiety and a lot of emotions that are normal emotions for 12-year-olds,” Lewis said. “He wants to do his best. He wants people to see him as a contributor, but he doesn’t always feel like he’s doing that.”

Lewis believes his work as a middle school teacher influenced his approach to the role. “I taught a lot of kids who were like the other kids on the show,” he explained. “Kids who struggle with anxiety and depression, kids whose home lives are challenging, kids who aren’t used to losing. “I have so much empathy for these characters because I have so much empathy for these real kids.”

Director and choreographer Pazdernik concluded that this show was “very sincere and wholesome.”

’25. ‘Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

When: 6-31 March

Where: Music Theater Studies at North Shore Performing Arts Center in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

Tickets: $39-$106; Half price for ages 25 and under

Information: 847-673-6300; musictheatreworks.com

Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.

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