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Kahilu returns to musical roots

January 3, 2014 - 8:08am

The Kahilu Theatre presents its own new year musical at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 and 2 p.m. Jan. 12. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a hit musical comedy about a fictional spelling bee set in Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the bee, which is run by three equally quirky grown-ups — creating a tale about over-achievers of all ages.

For both performances, tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $25, with discounts available to Kahilu Theatre members, available in advance at They are also available at the theater or by calling the box office from 9 a.m. to noon at 885-6868.

This will be the first Kahilu-produced musical since the Richard Smart days. From “O Coward” in 1981, to “I Remember a Life in Music” in 1992, Smart performed in, and often directed one to three musicals a year at the theater, even transporting them to Honolulu to also play at Diamond Head Theatre. For the last 20 years, the Kahilu has mostly presented touring companies, a policy that was called into question during the “intermission” year. The new vision for the theater calls for it to now be a “hub of cultural life in Waimea,” and as part of that mission the theater will again present its own shows, created with the community.

The Broadway production of “Spelling Bee” was so successful, with six Tony Awards, that it has become a favorite with community productions. Six young people in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves, learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. While the six adolescent outsiders vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime, they sing about their dreams, their allergies, their pushy (or absent) parents, their loneliness and their often hilarious coping mechanisms. Unusual additional characters include Jesus Christ (in a vision), an ex-convict Comfort Counselor, and four volunteers from the audience. The Spelling Bee is the unlikeliest of hit musicals about the unlikeliest of heroes: a nerdy yet lovable cast for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time.

Beth Dunnington, a New York professional actor, singer andwriter who has made Waimea her home for the past six-and-a-half years, will direct. Dunnington, a Kahilu board member, directed “Sondheim and Friends” at Kahilu in January 2012, and last January’s sold-out “Broadway in Hawaii.” This past summer, as a member of the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival’s vocal faculty, she directed “Big Island Broadway” at Gates Performing Arts Center. Guest musical director Taylor Stephenson will fly in for “Spelling Bee.” Stephenson is the recent winner of the LA Ovation Award for Best Musical Direction of the West Coast premiere of “Triassic Parq: The Musical” at the Chance Theatre.

The cast is comprised of teens and young adults ages 16 to 21, all seasoned performers of the local stage, having playing leads and featured roles in Parker School, Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Waimea Community Theatre productions, and almost all the cast members have performed in Dunnington’s previous “Broadway” concerts. High school students are Leilani Bostock, Sophie Dommer, Sean Dunnington, Harmony Graziano and Eliana Kaplan. Performing Arts college students Marena Faye Dunnington, Daniel Gregg, HanaSara Ito and Aidan Wharton are home for the holidays, just in time to rehearse and present the show.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is supported by the Kahilu Theatre Community Program Fund. It is also sponsored by several patrons.

Community groups, performers and directors interested in presenting their work at Kahilu Theatre should contact artistic director Tim Bostock at 382-3290 or at

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