The Cape Fear Regional Theatre has been celebrating imagination for almost 50 years. What better way for the theatre to begin its 49th season than by staging a musical that is all about the celebration of imagination? And, according to Kappy Kilburn, the director of the show, that’s what The Putnam County Spelling Bee is all about.
“During this run, we are going to ask the audience to play along with us,” said Kilburn, a Los Angeles-based director who is working with the theatre for the fi rst time. “We are going to ask them to not sit back in their chairs and watch. There is going to be some audience participation, and we are going to ask them to let their imaginations run free with us during the show.”
As its title suggests, the musical is about a spelling bee in, you guessed it, Putnam County. Held in the local school gym, the spelling bee brings 10 competitors together to test their spelling abilities. Six of those spellers are cast members, while four of the spellers will be a mix of “celebrity” spellers and members of the audience.
“It is a musical about kids being kids and growing up and finding who they are and who they want to be during a spelling bee competition,” continued Kilburn.
“It is a wacky, very eclectic mix of kids between the ages of 10 and 11 years old,” she explained. “It’s that crazy period when their bodies shoot up eight inches and their hormones kick in. It’s that time when you really need your mom’s guidance, but she’s off at an ashram for nine months trying to fi nd herself, and you have to fi gure life out for yourself.”
Kilburn calls the production “the most fun, best music I’ve heard in a while.” She added that there are a couple of ballads, and some really rocking numbers coupled with a lot of dancing and goofi ng off in the school gymnasium. The song “Pandemonium” lives up to its title, she added. “That’s where it all breaks loose.”
Just as this is Kilburn’s fi rst visit to the CFRT stage, it’s also her fi rst production of The Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“I saw the show in LA when the Broadway cast stepped into the tour for a few weeks and loved it,” she said.
While Fayetteville won’t get the Broadway cast, Kilburn says the CFRT cast is not too shabby.
“This is the most brilliant cast. They have been phenomenal to work with, and have been absolutely wonderful and welcoming to an LA outsider coming in,” she said.
While Kilburn may have lived in LA for the past 16 years, she is a southern girl at heart.
“My mother is from Atlanta, Ga., and my brother lives in Wilmington, N.C. My parents retired to the Washington, D.C., area, so I know about the south,” she said. “Coming to Fayetteville was a little bit of a culture shock, but in a good way. It is so much better here. There is a family environment — a graciousness that you don’t see in Los Angeles.
Part of that graciousness will be on display by community notables and audience members who elect to participate in the spelling bee with the cast.
“At each performance there will be four guest spellers that will join our regular six spelling bee contestants,” she said. “We have been pre-scheduling some notable Fayettevillians to join us, but we will also be plucking some unsuspecting people from the audience to play along with us.”
If you are interested in being a part of the cast, you can sign up in the lobby before the show starts.
“They don’t have to worry,” said Kilburn. “They are not going to have to dance or sing, just spell. We will coach them through it. It’s all about having fun with us.”
Kilburn said audience members should leave the show feeling uplifted.
“It is very a very uplifting show. It’s a way of us remembering the joy of us being kids. It’s about our fearlessness in the midst of our confusion in discoving who we are and what we are doing.”
If a speller is eliminated, it’s because they have taken a step forward in discovering who they are. So it’s always fun. I believe that we only grow old when we stop dreaming and this show is a nice reminder of that ideal,” she said.
The show opens Thursday, Sept. 23 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 10. For pricing and show times, visit the website at www. cfrt.org. To purchase tickets, call 323-4233.