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'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

Spelling champs come in all shapes and sizes in this Tony Award-winning musical

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October 7, 2013 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A heated spelling contest is at the center of the hilarious Tony Award-winning musical that launches the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University’s 33rd mainstage season Oct. 25.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be staged at the Josephine Louis Theatre, 20 Arts Circle Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus.

Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer -- who supervises the academic priorities of the University -- and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky -- who represents the interests of Evanston, other northern suburbs and parts of Chicago -- will try their hands at spelling when they make a special appearance with the cast Oct. 26 and Oct. 27, respectively. Other special guest spellers will appear onstage in different performances.

Performances will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25; 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1; 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8; 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10.

Directed by Northwestern University Graduate Directing Program alumnus Adam Goldstein,  “Spelling Bee” will feature choreography by Northwestern department of theatre alumna Katie Spelman and music direction by Joseph Jefferson (“Jeff”) Award-nominated theatre faculty member Ryan T. Nelson.

The highly comical musical is based on a book by Rachel Sheinkin and conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss.

"Spelling Bee" takes audiences into the pressure cooker world of student spelling contests, where six young overachievers are surrounded by winner-take-all attitudes and overly competitive adults. By its end, however, the youngsters -- with their dictionary-thick knowledge of obscure words -- learn that winning isn't everything and that champions come in all shapes and sizes.

“From the second the audience walks into the lobby they will experience and witness the absolute fun, spirit and heart-pumping pressure of a student spelling competition,” said Goldstein. “We are re-imagining the Louis Theatre from sidewalk to stage to transport the audience into the world of the competitors.”

Goldstein’s production will feature characters that may seem off kilter or wacky at first, but, in fact, play young people dealing with real issues and searching for their place and value.

Goldstein is working with a cast of nine Northwestern undergraduates and a design team that includes Jeff Award-winning sound designer Josh Horvath and Northwestern MFA design students Lauren Nigri (sets), Carolyn Sullivan (costumes) and Lindsey Lyddan (lights). Northwestern PhD student Bethany Hughes serves as dramaturg for the production. The orchestra is comprised of six undergraduate students.

A relative newcomer to the Chicago area, Goldstein previously served as artistic associate of Pennsylvania’s Bristol Riverside Theatre (BRT), as well as the creator, director and producer of BRT’s “America Rising: Voices of America” new play program. As a graduate student at Northwestern, Goldstein directed “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, and “The Mistakes Madeline Made” at TIC, and “South of Settling” as part of “NEXT UP” at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Single tickets are $10 to $30; tickets for groups of eight or more are $8 to $27 each; $5 tickets are available exclusively to Northwestern students with valid IDs on advance ticket purchases only. Tickets are available through the TIC Box Office at (847) 491-7282.