Produced by: Bus Barn Stage Company
Directed by: Milissa Carey
Choreographer: Katie O'Bryon
Music director: Mark Hanson
Featuring: Cory Censosoprano (William Barfée), Anthony Chan (Chip Tolentino), Monica Ho (Marcy Park), Michael Mohammed (Mitch Mahoney), Shane Olbourne (Douglas Panch), Taylor Sanders (Logainne Schwartzandgrubennierre), Sheila Townsend (Rona Lisa Perretti), Adrienne Walters (Olive Ostrovsky) and Warren Wernick (Leaf Coneybear).
When: September 6 through October 6, 2012
Where: Bus Barn Stage, 97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos, California
Tickets: $18-$38. Call 650-941-0551 or visit Bus Barn's ticket page.
Read John Orr's review of the play.
Milissa Carey, who is directing the charming musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" for Bus Barn Stage Company in Los Altos, leads a dizzyingly busy life.
When not working with her cast, band and crew in Los Altos, she is teaching at Foothill College or at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music ("Where I got my undergraduate degree," she said, "during the Pleistocene Era") and when not doing those things, is off to Central Works in Berkeley, where she is playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in "Richard the First."
Central Works, she explained in a recent phone call, is a tiny company that creates plays, which are often political.
"This crazy, ambitious" project was planned as one play about Richard the Lionheart, she explained, but grew into a trilogy.
"I'm playing Eleanor of the Aquitaine," she said, "The same character as in 'Lion in Winter,' but this play is a little more accurate about what happened. ... Epic crusades, deaths, travels across Europe, a really highly dysfunctional family."
All that traveling around for different projects, "does make for some kooky days," she said.
"It can be exhausting, absolutely. Certainly there are days, oh my God. I don't have a single creative thought, I am boring, I have nothing. But then you haul yourself to do it, and then get caught up in the energy of creative projects."
Barbara Cannon, who was Bus Barn's everything for years, called Carey and asked her to direct "Spelling Bee."
Then Cannon left Bus Barn, which was a shock to some of us in Bay Area theater circles although Carey knew about the move and departed for Sonoma, where she is reportedly learning to train seeing-eye dogs.
Cannon left behind a remarkable legacy of excellent shows, with very good casts in the very small space that is Bus Barn.
"It's a great script and a really good cast," said Carey. "It's been a lot of fun working on it."
This is Carey's first time directing "Spelling Bee," although she's certainly seen it a number of times in New York, San Francisco, San Jose and at Foothill College.
"It's really well written (It was conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss), nicely compact," Carey said. "While it's charming and has sweetness, it doesn't just go to saccharine. It stays smart. And the improv element makes for fun."
"Spelling Bee" is delightfully fun script for that improve stuff - at most productions, four members of the audience are asked to take part in the bee, and the word-pronouncer is usually an improv comic who can make the post of the interplay with the guests. And the regular cast, for that matter.
For this production, the pronouncer is Shane Olbourne, a veteran of many productions at Bus Barn, Foothill Music Theatre and elsewhere. "He's Austalian," Carey said, "But you'd never know it from his accent. He has a very dry sense of humor."
The show's music director is Mark Hanson. "He catches every moment of improv, every cue," Carey said. "He really understands the theater side."
Carey said she "lucked into actors who are spot-on for their roles. One of the hardest things to do in preparing a play. ... "It's a smaller space, so we were really able to go for people who are fantastic actors. We don't have to go for big, giant theater voices. Everybody in this cast is a good singer, but also a good actor, which make me happy.
"With only nine people in the show, everybody kind of inspires everybody else."
The play has a "sense of sincerity," Carey said. "Each individual speller really has some sort of obstacle to overcome to win the bee. Each has an individual journey ... the seem to be misfits, seem to be loners, but eventually all come to care about the others' journey. They are all changed, in some way, in the bee."