Spell check

By Allan I. Ross

Quirky comedy gives middle school 'oddballs' their moment in the spotlight

If you show up this weekend for Over the Ledge’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” it might be a good idea to thumb through a dictionary real quick, or at least catch up on the latest headlines on Huffington Post — you may just end up going toe-to-toe with the actors. 

“Every show we pick out four audience members to come up and play along with the actors,” says Over the Ledge’s artistic director Joe Dickson. “We’re looking for those audience spellers.” 

Dickson says that this is one his favorite musicals, and thought it would fit well in his company’s Ledges Playhouse.

“I saw (‘Putnam’) at Wharton a few years ago, and I thought the space there was just too big for the show,” he says. “The Ledges Playhouse is much more intimate. Audience participation is obviously a fundamental part of this production, so having it in this setting really increases the interaction and the fun.” 

The Tony Award-winning musical is set at a spelling contest, with most of the actors playing tweens who are dealing with a variety of adolescent problems. Actor Doak Bloss plays one of the judges who, when prompted, defines words for the contestants and uses them in sentences. Basically, though, it’s just a set up for word-related jokes and jabs at current events. 

“The original script still has O.J. Simpson references in it, so we’ve had a lot of fun updating it,” Bloss says. (In other words, don’t be surprised if a contestant starts addressing an empty chair.)

“One of the words we give is ‘marriage,’” Bloss says. “When they ask for the definition, I say, ‘A sacred institution between one man and one woman … except in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Iowa and Washington, D.C.’” 

Should be a hoot, as long as no R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N-S show up.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Over the Ledge Theatre Co.
Sept. 6-16
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Ledges Playhouse
137 Fitzgerald Park Dr., Grand Ledge
$7 student /$10 senior /$12 adult
(517)  318-0579