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Community Theatre League takes honors at state festival

The Community Theatre League, 100 W. Third St., brought home top honors when their production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was named Outstanding Production at the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatres Festival on March 14 in Gettysburg.

In addition to the night’s highest honor, the production also won the highest number of special awards, including Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Acting by an Ensemble and Outstanding Costuming. Cast members Michael Sampsell and Melissa Mabus also won individual Outstanding Actor awards.

The two highest scoring shows are sent on to participate in the Eastern States Theatre Association Festival, or ESTAFest, with the winner moving onto the national festival for the American Association of Community Theatres. This year, the two shows moving on to the ESTAFest are both from northcentral Pennsylvania: CTL’s production of “Spelling Bee” and Hamilton-Gibson’s production of “Miracle on South Division Street.”

“We have considered sending a show to the festival for a number of years, but it’s always tricky to have the right kind of show, one that can be easily transported, and one with such a stellar cast – such as the one for ‘Spelling Bee,’ ” said artistic director Jacquie Engel.

“Martena Rogers, the show’s director-choreographer, has done a masterful job helping the talented cast fashion characters that are quirky but not caricatures of the spellers. The festival judges made specific mention that sometimes people go over the top with these kind of characters, but this cast nailed it,” she added.

The show features six spellers whose backstories are told throughout the show in short vignettes. Each speller is a little different, but they have made it to the Putnam County Bee – the one place where they truly excel. The bee is facilitated by word pronouncer Douglas Panch and color commentator Rona Lisa Peretti, played by CTL regulars Keith Wagner and Marisa Hickey. When a speller hears the soul-crushing sound of the bell that signals a misspelling, they are sent off with a hug and a juice box by “Comfort Counsellor “Mitch Mahoney, played by Chris Dailey.

Josh Adams plays Chip Tolentino, last year’s champ, and the first to be eliminated due to an unlucky fascination with a girl in the audience. Eventually he is followed out the door by Michael Sampsell playing Leaf Coneybear, Aubrey Potash as Logainne SchwartzandGrubbeniere, Melissa Mabus as Marcy Park and Kaitlin Huggins as Olive Ostrovsky. William Barfee, played by Alex Lundberg, eventually is crowned champion and gets to participate in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

“Audience members tend to see a bit of themselves in each character. That’s what makes the show so popular,” Engel said. “When an underdog can overcome their own perceived limitations, we just want to jump on stage, give them a hug, and say, ‘Way to go!’ “

The Community Theatre League will present “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at ESTAFest on April 18.