Tony award-winning musical to buzz into Ballard

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” — a hilarious musical that follows six eccentric contestants as they compete for the ultimate alphabetic achievement — is coming to Seattle this summer.

The Tony award-winning musical has been around the world since its Broadway debut in 2005. And now, The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., will play host to its Seattle premier from July 14 through Aug. 14.

Photo courtesy Matthew R. Throssell

Two growing Seattle production companies — RK Productions and Contemporary Classics — are working together for the first time to co-present “Spelling Bee.”

Contemporary Classics debuted in 2005 with the Seattle premiere of Andrew Lippa’s, “john & jen,” while RK Productions debuted in 2008 with its production of “Reefer Madness: The Musical,” at venues all over Seattle, including The Ballard Underground.

Both companies strive to bring good theater to Seattle and have been working hard to premiere “Spelling Bee.“

“We’ve been trying to do ‘Spelling Bee’ for about two years,” said Brandon Ivie, artistic director for Contemporary Classics. “The rights were heavily restricted for a long time and when they finally became available we jumped at the opportunity.”

“Spelling Bee” boasts no giant production numbers and no elaborate costumes or sets, just eight very funny people on stage. To bring out the best in this minimalist musical the folks at Contemporary Classics and RK Productions had to find the perfect venue. That’s why they turned to the small subterranean theater at The Ballard Underground.

“The Ballard Underground is an intimate and quirky little space, which is perfect for ‘Spelling Bee,’ an intimate and quirky little show. If the theater is too big it would swallow up this very funny but very small show,” Ivie explained.

Ghost Light Theatricals, a non-profit theater company, occupies the space at the Ballard Underground, and is renting out the venue for “Spelling Bee”. “[We] are happy to rent the space to anyone who needs it,” said Matt Lyman, the marketing director and literary director of Ghost Light. “We are the only live theater in Ballard. A neighborhood that has a rich cultural history needs to have a strong arts community as well–and we hope that we can help with that.”

The intimate setting at The Ballard Underground helps to embrace the unique aspects of the show. Improvisation and audience participation distinguish “Spelling Bee” from the typical musical. Each performance will have audience members pulled out of the crowd to participate as spellers in the bee.

“The show relies so much on the interaction between the audience and the characters because it’s run like an actual spelling bee,” said Kate Jaeger, Jet City Improv veteran and co-artistic director of RK Productions. “The audience interaction means that every night is going to be fun and different.”

Scored By William Finn, the Ballard production of “Spelling Bee” has assembled some of Seattle’s best comedic talent, including Jaeger, who recently appeared in “Reefer Madness”; Ashley FitzSimmons, who performed in Village Theatre’s “Showboat”; and Kelly Mak, who was seen in Seattle Rep’s “King Stag” as well as Intiman’s “Our Town”; also, Justin Huertas (Contemporary Classics’ Zanna, Don’t!), Sarah Petty (“Nietzsche! The Musical!”), Brian Demar Jones (Village Theatre’s “Chasing Nicolette,” Robert Scherzer, (“Reefer Madness”), Bill Williams (Village Theatre’s “The Gypsy King”), and Douglas Willott, a local improv artist.

Contemporary Classics and RK Productions both hope to work
with Ghost Light Theatricals at The Ballard Underground in the future. “[We] are currently working on a new musical that is still under wraps,” said Jaeger. “But The Ballard Underground would be a great spot for it. Hopefully we can make that announcement sometime in 2011.”

Tickets to “Spelling Bee” are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and Theatre Puget Sound members and can be purchased here.

Contributor Jonathan Moore is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communications News Laboratory.


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