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What's Next: 'Spelling Bee' starts this week
Kidding around: "Spelling Bee" contestants Michelle Meece, left, Richie Cook, Gretchen Kristine Stelzer, Matthew Meece and Shannon Kuanfung.


'Spelling Bee' opens this week

If you’ve never made it over to the Savannah Theatre, this might be the right time. Beginning Thursday, Aug. 20, the resident company is putting on the Tony-winning musical comedy “The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” It runs through Sept. 6.

 Written by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, “Spelling Bee” concerns a bunch of dorky kids in a spelling bee. That’s pretty much it. There’s usually quite a bit of audience interaction, and the show is full of groan-inducing puns, knee-slapping one-liners, quirky choreography and songs with titles like “My Friend, the Dictionary” and “I’m Not That Smart.”

 All of the 12-year-olds are played by the regular adult cast of the Savannah Theatre (Michael Zaller, Matt and Michelle Meece, Gretchen Kristine Stelzer, and Shannon Kuanfung) along with other local adult performers (Ryan McCurdy, Ritchie Cook, Jenn Doubleday, and Anthony Chase). 

 British architect William Jay designed the 525-seat theater in 1818, and in its heyday, all the great thespians appeared on its stage, including Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, W.C. Fields and Edwin Booth (brother of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth).

 Since 2003, it’s been operated by the Meece family, who’d had a lot of success running theaters in Branson, Mo. It’s not a community theater – they don’t hold open auditions, nor do they have a varying “season” – rather, the regular cast alternates shows (usually musical “revues” written around popular songs) for up to six months at a stretch.

The theater has been wildly successful. The secret? Tourists, baby. Family patriarch Michael Meece has secured contracts with tour companies – they deposit coach-loads of audience members for virtually every performance.

Of course, said tourists have to eat somewhere, and sleep somewhere. So the Savannah Theatre, logically, is good for Savannah.

 Tickets are $16-$35 at, and through the box office, (912) 233-7764.


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