Chattanooga Now UTC's 'Spelling Bee' promises 'hilarious,' 'touching' wordplay

Chattanooga Now UTC's 'Spelling Bee' promises 'hilarious,' 'touching' wordplay

November 11th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Chattanooga Now - Art

Behind every contestant in the annual National Spelling Bee finals is a story wholly different from every other contender.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which tells the musical story of six such spellers as they struggle to win their local competition, will be presented by the UTC Theatre Department in six performances today through Nov. 19 in the UTC Fine Arts Center.

"Through the Bee," said director Gaye Jeffers, the middle-school student spellers "find a lot about where they came from."

There are both "hilarious things" and "touching moments" in the Tony Award-winning production, she said.

In addition, the writers have left blanks in the script for each cast to make the show more relevant by adding cultural references.

Such references allow the show to be funny and topical, where it "has a 'Saturday Night Live' feel to it," Jeffers said. "It's rare to be given permission to write your own words."

The musical also becomes interactive at one point when four audience members are asked to join the spelling bee.

"There's lots of fun that happens" with audience members, Jeffers said.

Whenever "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is staged, six adults portray the students, who are ages 10-13.

"That allows us to really get in the head of someone we may not ordinarily get to explore," said Jeffers.

Such students might be bullied, see their parents go through a divorce or face other roadblocks, she said. For some, even winning may not be a good thing.

"For a couple of these spellers," Jeffers said, "winning just kind of leaves them further down the road of overachievement. It would be better for them to lose sometimes."

The production, due to some adult themes, is suggested for ages 16-up.