By MADDY VITALE
Summing up the Ocean City Theatre Company’s show, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” in one word, or even a few, would be difficult.
But if there was one word to describe a show that gives audiences a reprieve from the stress of the pandemic, the laughter of a Saturday Night Live skit, and the dancing, singing and improvisation that rivals a Broadway show, then this would be it: Spectacular.
The Tony Award-winning musical takes the audience through the experience of six kids vying for first prize and a trip to the National Spelling Bee Competition.
Performances will be held in the Hughes Performing Arts Center on Aug. 10, 11 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. The show is rated PG-13.
Tickets range from $25 to $30 and are available at oceancityvacation.com/boxoffice, 609-399-6111 or the Music Pier Box Office.
The show is directed by Shannon Agnew, who described ways that Spelling Bee is a special experience for the cast and audiences.
“The cool part about the show is that the script is never the same. Come see it four times and you will see a different show every time,” Agnew said before rehearsal Monday at the Performing Arts Center in the Ocean City High School.
One of the exciting and unique aspects of the show is that it calls for audience participation, Agnew pointed out.
“Four volunteers are chosen every night to join in the spelling bee. We really welcome the audience’s involvement in the show,” she added.
Agnew described the cast as talented, hilarious and versatile. She noted that the show is a refreshing escape, especially after more than a year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This show is just what we all need. It gives us the laughter that everyone needs,” she noted.
The show features a cast of professional performers and musicians. Robert Taylor is the choreographer and Jonathan Kreamer serves as music director.
The fully staged musical collaborations of the Ocean City Theatre Company and Ocean City Pops delight audiences summer after summer, and this production marks the return of Broadway by the Beach after shows were canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“We hope this hilarious musical delivers laughs and joyous live musical moments to heal our community after all that we have been through over the past year and a half,” OCTC Artistic Director Michael Hartman said in a news release.
The characters include sweet and shy Olive, bold and hyper-allergic speller William Barfee, former champion, Chip, who struggles with his burgeoning puberty and easily distracted Leaf.
Then there is the overachiever Marcy and politically aware Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, who only wants to impress her gay dads and Vice Principal Douglas Panch and Rona.
The cast members sing songs that reveal hopes, struggles, and passions as they make their way through the competition, according to an OCTC release.
Drew Patti, 24, formerly of Pittsburgh and who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., plays Vice Principal Panch. The actor, who already has seven years in the industry, plays a key role in moving the show forward.
Patti chooses the words for cast and audience members to spell.
“It is a lot of what I like to do – improv,” he noted in an interview before rehearsal. “It is a different show and the energy is so wonderful. This is the first time I am in a show by OCTC. It is really a joy.”
Elizabeth Worley, 35, of New York City, who grew up in Cincinnati, plays Rona, and acts somewhat as Vice Principal Panch’s sidekick.
With 20 years of acting on her resume and some performances with OCTC, Worley said she is excited to be back in Ocean City.
“It is thrilling to be back with my OCTC family doing live theatre,” she said.
Worley, who just choreographed All Shook Up for the OCTC Jr. Company, said that this is her first post-COVID-19 pandemic performance.
Like Agnew and Patti, Worley pointed out that audiences will be in for zany and hilarious times. And as an actress, she noted something else about the show.
“You always have to be hyper-focused and listen because things change. There are 20-something ways the show can go with Drew moderating,” she said. “It’s very Saturday Night Live.”
The full cast is as follows: Zach Letty as Chip, Hannah Catanoso as Marcy, Neil Devlin as Leaf, Kyle Jack as Mitch, Nicolette Palombo as Logainne, Hadly Patterson as Olive, Drew J. Patti as Vice Principal Panch, Jeff Tierney as Barfee and Elizabeth Worley as Rona.
For more information visit www.oceancitytheatrecompany.com