Students at the PCA spelling Bee

Six quirky adolescents compete, but only one will win. The losers get a juice box. Winner of the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Book, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy directed by Brandon Gabaldon, opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, and runs through Feb. 5, in the Cabaret theater at Suze’s Prescott Center for the Arts (PCA), 208 N. Marina St.

With music and lyrics by William Finn, based on a book by Rachel Sheinkin, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has charmed audiences across the country with a comedic story of six tweens, played by adult actors, competing for the spelling championship of a lifetime.

Gabaldon explained that by using adults to play children, the play shows what it’s actually like to be a kid. “I think a lot of media kind of makes it cutesy or, you know, funny — which this play definitely is funny — but it hits hard in a lot of places too,” he said. “One of the hardest stages of life is that 10 to 12, you know, you’re just figuring out what it is to be a human being and all the difficulty that comes through that.”

Lara Hamidi-Ismert plays Olive Ostrovsky, a young newcomer to competitive spelling whose parents are too busy to attend.

“The character I’m playing is 10 years old and she is the comically tragic or tragically funny character,” Hamidi-Ismert said. “Neither parents are there to see the spelling bee and it’s a constant kind of pain. Every time she goes up to spell, she’s looking for them in the audience. She does end up doing quite well in the spelling bee. I won’t give any spoilers, but she does well. She makes a friend and that is very healing for my character.”

Actor Dakota King explained that the character he plays, William Barfée, is the best speller in the contest, according to himself.

“He cheats a little bit because he has a magic foot that allows him to spell the words a little bit better,” King said. “It makes for a kind of fun and energetic situation where he has to be constantly moving in order to spell his words. He’s kind of discovering that he has some affections and personality that he can show to other people. In the past. He’s been put down as a nerd and a geek and this is his chance to get out there and show that he has heart.”

Actor Cole Brackney Wandelear plays Mitch Mahoney, the official Comfort Counselor. Mahoney is an ex-convict who hands out juice boxes to losing students to fulfill his community service.

“Ultimately it’s about making the audience laugh and then also convincing the audience to think about their own childhood experiences, childhood traumas and unique things that happened to you as a child that you don’t experience outside of childhood,” he said. “So it kind of tricks people from laughing into really being introspective.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit, or call 928-445-3286.

Jesse Bertel is a reporter/videographer for the Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter @ JesseBertel, email him at, or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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