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UMB to Put on First Musical in Over a Decade

The Spelling Bee cast and crew promises the show will bring laughter and fun. The cast poses here at a rehearsal in The McCormack Theatre

This spring, the UMass Boston Department of Performing Arts will be putting on its first musical since 1997’s “West Side Story” was performed. Professor Carrie Ann Quinn will be directing the 2005 Tony Award winning musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

There will be a total of seven performances in the McCormack Theatre running from April 17_ April 21 with tickets for UMass Boston students selling for $10 each. The musical promises to be a crowd pleaser and to offer a lot of laughs according to both cast and crew.

After a decade without any musicals, Quinn decided it was time UMass Boston had one. “Well basically people had been asking for a while, and since musicals are really hard to produce and a lot of extra money we decided we wanted to make sure it was the right time and we had the right amount of people,” Quinn explained.

What makes musicals so hard to produce goes beyond the amount of money involved. Musicals not only require extra funding for song and music royalties, song books and a band to perform live at every performance, but also many extra people to make putting on a show like “Spelling Bee” possible.

“Its my fourth year here [and it wasn’t until now] that I felt that I was comfortable enough to do a musical because it includes so many other people; a music director and so many other things to organize, so this seemed like the right time,” Quinn said.

About deciding on “Spelling Bee” Quinn added that she wanted to do something that was positive and fun. “We knew we weren’t going to do any sort of depressing musicals; we weren’t going to do Phantom of the Opera.”

“Spelling Bee” is a one-act musical conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin. It is about six unconventional and slightly unpopular middle-schoolers competing in a spelling bee run by three just as peculiar adults.

“I had seen it before and remembered thinking that it had really good characters and acting opportunities [and] that’s really what we focus on here; not musical theatre, but acting,” Quinn said. She added that there also isn’t an overabundance of dancing which had originally been a concern.

Quinn admitted that she and Department Head Robert Lublin, had been planning a musical for UMass Boston for the last two years. “We knew we were going to do a musical in the spring of 2012… and decided it was going to be “Spelling Bee” last spring.”

When it came to the auditions for “Spelling Bee”Quinn acknowledged, “We really lucked out there because you never know what you’re going to get [but] we have great singers.” Theatre major and Assistant Stage Manager Nikoleta Tsaousidis, also said with confidence, “The singing in this musical proves that we have a lot of undiscovered talent at UMass Boston… I think people will be impressed with the singing.”

Stage Manager and theatre student Kathelin Lembert said about the musical that she thinks the audience will definitely laugh a lot.“We have a very energetic cast, a very hard working and determined cast.” Lembert added, “It will be nice to really have a big audience so they can see how much work theatre students put into this.”

Brendan Paine, a theatre major in his second semester here at UMass Boston and the actor playing the part of Leaf Coneybear says “Spelling Bee” will prove to be a really good time. “It’s a good message about adolescents growing into themselves. I think people can relate to it too.”

When asked what she thinks the audience will take a way from the show, Quinn answered, “It’s about middle school students which I think is a fun age for both college students and adults to sort of look back on and laugh at. [There’s also] a lot of elements that everyone who’s been through middle school and been through puberty will understand.”

Chris Spenser, a grad student playing Chip Tolentino in his first show on the McCormack stage in over two and a half years agrees and says the audience will find it funny. “It’s a hilarious show and there’s a lot of relatable characters,” Spenser said.

Psychology major and theatre minor Kendra White, who plays Logainne in the musical, says she thinks “Spelling Bee” is going to be something that pushes the theatre program to the place it needs to be. “I think it’s time for the audience not to underestimate UMass Boston. There’s a lot of talent here and I think people are going to come in and they are going to come back. I just honestly think it’s going to put the program in the right place.”

“Spelling Bee” tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance through [email protected]. Performances are April 17 at 6 p.m. (student appreciation night and pizza night), April 18 at 6 p.m., April 19 at 7 p.m., April 20, 21 at 8 p.m. and April 21, 22 at 2 p.m. Extended shuttle service will be provided for late shows.