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Get in on the action in Civic’s ‘Putnam County Spelling Bee’

Brush up on your orthography.

And if you don’t know what that means, look it up, because “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is on its way to the Spokane Civic Theatre’s Firth Chew Studio Theatre.

You may get to take part in one of the most popular musicals of the last decade. Audience participation has been one of the hallmarks of this Tony-winning musical since it first opened off-Broadway in 2005.

In every performance, four audience members will go up on stage and test their skills in spelling (yeah, that’s what orthography means). Don’t worry – only willing volunteers will be chosen and you’ll know before the show begins whether or not you’re one of them.

This makes an uncommonly fun musical even more fun.

“It has so much potential for improvisation and so many opportunities to change things up,” said Kathie Doyle-Lipe, director of this production. “It just feels like a party every night.”

In rehearsals, Doyle-Lipe has dragooned backstage workers and technical crew to fill in as the audience members. Beginning Friday, the real audience will play its part.

“Spelling Bee” has much more going for it than audience participation. The music by William Finn is catchy and rousing. The book by Rachael Sheinkin is full of wisecracks and laugh lines. The show won a pair of Tony Awards for good reason.

And the characters – a bunch of high-IQ middle schoolers with names like William Barfee, Leaf Coneybear and Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere – are endearing and memorable. There’s the high-achiever, the dreamer and the nerd, just to name three middle-school types.

“Everybody will find a character to associate with,” said Doyle-Lipe. “It speaks a lot about parenting and the pressure that kids are under and the awkwardness of middle school. I think people will go, ‘Oh yeah, I remember feeling like that.’ ”

As in the Broadway production, the middle-schoolers are played by adults. In the Civic’s version they will be played by David A. McElroy II, Molly Ovens, Mark Pleasant, Lance Babbitt, Beth Carey and Lacey Bohnet.

The adults are played by Maureen Kumakura, Greg Pschirrer and Michael Hynes. A three-piece combo will provide the music.

Doyle-Lipe thinks the Civic’s intimate, downstairs Firth Chew Studio Theatre space is well-suited to this show, which actually began as an improvisational comedy piece titled “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E” from a Massachusetts group.

The only issue? The seating is limited. Two performances have already been added due to demand, and some have already sold out.

So don’t be guilty of procrastination – but you might want to know how to spell it.