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Learning how to spell with Musical Theatre Association

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By Julia Day


“Caterjunes.” “Qaimaqam.” “Acouchi.” “Phylactery.”

Many college students, let alone graduates, would find it difficult to spell these words without digging up a dictionary. That’s not the case, however, for students in the University at Albany Musical Theatre Association (UAMTA) who have been spelling their hearts out all semester in preparation for the fall musical production. This year the group has decided to produce the Tony Award-winning show “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

UAMTA is the only musical theatre performance group on campus. From acting, costumes, set designs and more, the group welcomes members of all interests in performing arts. The productions are all acted, produced, and directed by UAlbany students.

“Because this is student-run, everyone has their own ideas and can bring them all to the table,” said Tracy King, co-director of the production and treasurer of UAMTA.

“Spelling Bee” originally debuted on Broadway in 2005, with music and lyrics written by composer William Finn. Following wild success and positive reviews from critics, the musical comedy has been produced in cities across North America including San Francisco, St. Louis, and Mexico City, as well as expanding to Canada. The production has also been enjoyed overseas in the United Kingdom and Australia. Now, the infectious “Spelling Bee” has made its way onto the UAlbany campus.

So what is the play about, other than refining long forgotten spelling skills?

“It’s about a group of unique kids, they all have their own little quirks which makes them weird but lovable characters,” said Jesus Vasquez, co-director of the production and president of UAMTA. “They’re all just at the spelling bee and trying to spell words to make their parents proud and themselves proud.”

Co-directors King and Vasquez have both been active members of UAMTA during their time at UAlbany.

“I’ve been involved with the show since freshman year, so I finally wanted to direct,” said King. “Between me and Jesus, it’s a good mix of strengths.”

Vasquez shared similar sentiments about his role as co-director.

“This is my fourth year being part of UAMTA,” he said. “Now, I’m running rehearsals with the co-director and just trying to come up with a vision for the show, and trying to put that vision onto the stage.”

The cast and crew have been running rehearsals since the end of September, and as opening night approaches, the pieces are all starting to fall into place. Compared to last year’s “Legally Blonde” production which had a full cast of 24 members, “Spelling Bee” is relatively smaller, with a cast of only nine students. The musical has two co-directors, an assistant director, a stage manager, a choreographer, a vocal coach, and other crew members helping with the set.

Sophomore Aubrey Salamone plays the role of Olive Ovstrovsky, a newcomer to the spelling bee.

“She’s really just trying to find a companion during the bee and form friendships while she’s on stage because the only friend she’s ever really had is her dictionary,” Salamone said while describing her character.

Salamone played the lead role of Elle Woods in last year’s production of “Legally Blonde” and expressed nothing but excitement at the opportunity of participating again this year.

“When they came out with the idea of ‘Spelling Bee’ I had to do it,” she said. “I don’t get to sing a lot on campus because I’m so busy taking other classes, so the fact that I get to come here after class and sing for a few hours is really relieving.”

Graduate student Timbray Shafer plays the role of Vice Principal Douglas Panch, one of the spelling bee judges.

“I love this musical, I’ve loved it since I saw it in middle school,” said Shafer. “Being able to finally be in it after adoring it for so long and being able to do it with some of my best friends is great.”

The production is guaranteed to bring forth compelling performances, strong direction, and entertaining music, with a twist of added educational benefit.

“It’s absolutely hysterical and you’ll learn how to spell some really funny words!” King said.

The production will premiere Friday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the Performing Arts Center, and continue on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available in advance for $3 at the Student Association window, and $5 at the door.

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