TribLive: Break out your dictionary for the new show at ARP

Stage Right Pittsburgh takes high school students back to their grade school days with its Young Artists Summer Musical production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

The Tony Award-winning comedy by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn revisits the drama and fun of the annual competition that pits an eclectic group of sixth-grade spellers against each other in a race through some of the dictionary’s toughest words.

Stage Right’s “Spelling Bee,” co-directed by Jim Froehlich, producer, and Jamie McDonald with musical direction by Jenna Hayes, will take place Aug. 1-4 at Aspinwall Riverfront Park.

“The show was chosen to showcase the talents of our ‘Young Artists,’” Froehlich said. “The music isn’t easy, but they make it look easy. We have a strong pool of seasoned musical theater artists who come from the entire Pittsburgh region. Teens are involved with everything from acting to stage crew to lighting design.”

Anyone who wasn’t cast in the show was offered a position to work behind-the-scenes and many chose to take advantage of the experience, he said. More than 20 students are involved in the musical production.

Pushing the envelope

“This show is so witty and charming, and the songs are clever, and the kids themselves wanted to do a newer show that pushed the envelope,” she said.

For Olivia Pistella, a recent graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School and member of the Stage Right Junior Board, the show is another opportunity to express her love for theater. She also participated in Stage Right’s Young Artists productions of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”

“I play Olive Ostrovsky, a shy and somewhat quirky 12-year-old girl,” Pistella said. “She doesn’t receive much attention at home, as her father is busy with work and her mother is on a nine-month spiritual quest in India, but she seeks comfort in her best friend, the dictionary.”

Olive eventually blossoms into a more confident and outgoing character and makes a friend along the way. One of her favorite songs in the show is “The I Love You Song,” which Olive sings with her absentee parents.

Old and new friends

“It’s pretty tricky in terms of range and overlapping parts, but it’s a beautiful song that I get to sing with two of my best friends,” she said. “Getting to perform in one last show with my friends from high school and new friends in the cast with the help of the Stage Right staff has been the most fun part of being in the cast and an absolutely wonderful way to spend my summer.”

Talia Akiva of Shadyside, who will be a senior at Obama Academy, portrays another student in the competition, Logainne Shwartzandgrubenierre.

“Logainne is an awkward goofball who loves to advocate for what she believes in so everyone can hear,” she said. “She feels overwhelmed by the pressure her two fathers are putting on her to win the spelling bee but is eager to do her very best and have fun along the way.”

Akiva said the best part of being in the cast is “seeing all these funny characters come to life and meeting all of these incredible people. I’ve been fortunate to meet such cool, talented people that I would have never crossed paths with if it wasn’t for this show.”

This is her first production for Stage Right; she has performed in other shows, including “Sister Act,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Into the Woods” and “Guys and Dolls.”

For teens through adults

Hayes, who will conduct a five-piece pit orchestra of professional adult musicians, said “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is for all ages to enjoy.

“While it’s an ideal show for kids that are high school aged, the adults are going to get just as many jokes. The high school kids will enjoy seeing their friends act silly and attempting to spell near impossible words,” she said.

The show contains mild suggestive themes and adult language and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

The cast also features Paige Purcell, Jeremy Platt, Zach Bowler, Colton Mell, Travis Michael, Sadie Lorence, Oscar Izenson, Tommy Snow, Jack Lorence, Tyler Drum, Abigail Kusluch, Natalka Harris and Anna Farris.