A spell of a good time: New show opens at Leeds

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Correction: A quote from the print edition of this story that ran without an attribution was said by Jackson Becker. The Sun apologizes for this error.

A spelling bee like no other is ongoing at the Leeds Center for the Arts in downtown Winchester.

Curtains went up on “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” last Friday, and shows will run through this coming weekend.

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The show is a musical comedy composed by Willian Finn and written by Rachel Sheinkin and focuses on the quirky antics the cast gets up to at the annual competition. 

Some of the characters go on a profound journey during the three-hour performance.

One is resident overachiever Marcy Park, played by Elena Guerra.

“She realizes that all the things she has been taught, that matter so much, really don’t,” Guerra said. “I have developed the character in such a way to befriend one of the more silly, goofy characters that does not care for the entirety of the show…She watches this person, and they are so free, and in a very grand gesture, she claims her own freedom of not living up to expectations.”

Guerra connected with her character due to her “being involved in all the things” in high school.

“I definitely gave some lover to my inner-self who was very high achieving and doing things all the time,” she said.

Other characters are happy to be somewhere new, such as Leaf Coneybear, who Jacob Ernst plays.

“Leaf is a very very unique character,” Ernst said. “He is homeschooled and comes from a family with lots of siblings who have similarly eclectic names. He is unlike any other kid. He has never been in an environment like this before, and all the new people he meets are exciting to him.”

Playing a character that comes from such a large family was a challenge for Ernst.

“I only have one brother, and it is definitely not the same vibe. I grew up with a normal school life, so putting myself in the mind of a kid who hasn’t had any socialization means and is very unedited and unfiltered,” he said.

Ultimately, for Leaf, the spelling bee is a journey of self-discovery.

“Leaf’s family doesn’t believe in him. They don’t think he is smart and is a goober who sees the world in all these insane, ridiculous ways. Throughout the play, he goes pretty far in the spelling bee, and with the new friends that he makes and the new confidence he gains, he learns that he is smart and that he has a talent for spelling,” Ernst said.

The production is unique from Leeds’ past offerings because of the level of audience participation.

Several “guest spellers” from the community, such as Chad Walker and Brett Cheuvront, have already participated, and Lauren Mink, Cicely Dore and Pamela Perlman are on deck for this weekend.

Other participants will be pulled from the audience. Any nervous participants will be in excellent hands with the cast.

“I think you have to be so in character and mess with them and say little quips to them to help them feel as comfortable on stage as possible,” said cast member Jackson Beck, who plays William Barfee.

Friday and Saturday’s shows start at 7:30 p.m. Sunday’s performance will be a 2:30 p.m. matinee. Tickets are $18 for students and 22 for adults and are available online at www.leedscenter.org.