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Kahilu Theatre presents its first musical in more than 20 years

The Kahilu Theatre will present its own New Year musical, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a hit musical comedy about a fictional spelling bee set in Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the Bee, which is run by three equally quirky grown-ups – creating a charming and hilarious tale about over-achievers of all ages.

This will be the first Kahilu-produced musical since the Richard Smart days. From “O, Coward!” in 1981, to “I Remember a Life in Music” in 1992, Richard Smart performed in, and often directed one to three musicals a year at the theater, even transporting them to Honolulu to also play at Diamond Head Theatre.

The Broadway production of “Spelling Bee” was so successful, with six Tony Awards, that it has become a favorite with community productions. Six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. While the six adolescent outsiders vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime, they sing about their dreams, their allergies, their pushy (or absent) parents, their loneliness and their often hilarious coping mechanisms.

Beth Dunnington, a NYC professional actor, singer and writer who has made Waimea her home for the past six-and-a-half years, will direct. Dunnington, a board member of Kahilu, directed “Sondheim and Friends” at Kahilu in January 2012, and last January’s sold out “Broadway in Hawaii.” This past summer, as a member of the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival’s vocal faculty, she directed “Big Island Broadway” at Gates Performing Arts Center. Guest Musical Director Taylor Stephenson will fly in for “Spelling Bee.” Stephenson is the recent winner of the LA Ovation Award for Best Musical Direction of the West Coast premiere of “Triassic Parq: The Musical at the Chance Theatre.”

The cast is comprised of teens and young adults, ages 16 to 21, all seasoned performers of the local stage, having playing leads and featured roles in Parker, HPA, and Waimea Community Theatre productions, and almost all the cast members have performed in Dunnington’s previous “Broadway” concerts. High school students are Leilani Bostock, Sophie Dommer, Sean Dunnington, Harmony Graziano and Eliana Kaplan. Performing Arts college students Marena Faye Dunnington, Daniel Gregg, HanaSara Ito and Aidan Wharton are home for the holidays, just in time to rehearse and present the show.

For both performances, tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $25, with discounts available to Kahilu Theatre members, available in advance from Kahilu Theatre’s new website Public can also drop in at the theater or call the box office from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., at 885-6868.