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Local politicians, personalities to join actors on stage in upcoming Nashoba Players musical

  • From left, Andrew Costello, of Wakefield, Kenny Meehan, of Chelmsford,...

    From left, Andrew Costello, of Wakefield, Kenny Meehan, of Chelmsford, Taejasvi Narayan, of Andover, Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, Annemarie LaTulip, of Billerica, and Diane Meehan, of Chelmsford, rehearse on Oct. 10, 2022 for the upcoming Nashoba Players’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The show opens Westford’s Parish Center for the Arts on Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (Courtesy of JulieAnn Govang)

  • Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, portrays Leaf Coneybear in the upcoming...

    Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, portrays Leaf Coneybear in the upcoming Nashoba Players’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opens on Oct. 21, 2022 at Westford’s Parish Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Swansburg performed in the musical 12 years ago at Acton’s Theatre III. (Courtesy of JulieAnn Govang)

  • From left, Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, Taejasvi Narayan, of Andover,...

    From left, Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, Taejasvi Narayan, of Andover, Annemarie LaTulip, of Billerica, Kenny and Diane Meehan, of Chelmsford, and Andrew Costello, of Wakefield, rehearse on Oct. 10, 2022 for the upcoming Nashoba Players’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The show opens Westford’s Parish Center for the Arts on Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (Courtesy of JulieAnn Govang)

  • From left, Andrew Costello, of Wakefield, Kenny Meehan, of Chelmsford,...

    From left, Andrew Costello, of Wakefield, Kenny Meehan, of Chelmsford, Taejasvi Narayan, of Andover, Andrew Swansburg, of Groton, Annemarie LaTulip, of Billerica, and Diane Meehan, of Chelmsford, rehearse on Oct. 10, 2022 for the upcoming Nashoba Players’ production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The show opens Westford’s Parish Center for the Arts on Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (Courtesy of JulieAnn Govang)

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WESTFORD — Can you spell h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s?

Maybe after the Nashoba Players’ upcoming performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical comedy that follows a group of six, somewhat unusual middle school-aged children competing in a spell-off. But the twist? The spellers are all played by adults.

The community theater nonprofit, which casts actors from Westford, Chelmsford, Acton, Leominster and beyond, will open their production at The Parish Center for the Arts on Friday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m., with subsequent shows Oct. 22, 28 and 29, also at 7:30 p.m.

Diane and Kenny Meehan, a husband-and-wife theatrical duo from Chelmsford, have played opposite each other in countless local productions since 2004. But starring in “Spelling Bee” has been a uniquely different experience for them.

“We’re all playing children,” said Kenny Meehan, who by day works as a Chelmsford Police officer. “They’re all grade school kids, so it’s really just silly.”

Diane Meehan plays Olive Ostrovsky, who she describes as an “abandoned child” whose best friend is the dictionary. Olive faces off against her husband’s William Barfée, who has his own “quirks,” one being the weird technique he uses to spell during the bee, which he sings about in the musical number “Magic Foot.”

In approaching her character, Diane Meehan said she took slight inspiration from her youngest of three daughters, who is “on the shy side,” just like Olive. Through both her dialogue and physicality on stage, she said she focuses on the mind of a child and how a younger person might respond to the many “adult” jokes scattered throughout the show.

Even when she is fully in character, however, Diane Meehan said sometimes, the “hardest thing is not laughing” — that’s how funny the show is.

“It is going to be a riot,” she said. “It’s hugely entertaining. It’s just going to be a great night.”

The small ensemble cast has rehearsed since September and enters their tech week on Monday, when they’ll run through their last rehearsals before opening night. But even after they nail their lines and musical numbers, much of the show will be left up to chance.

That’s because, alongside the cast, four different local politicians, business owners and other personalities will join the spellers every night on stage to participate in the bee themselves. Candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Dean Tran will be there, as will former state Rep. Sheila Harrington, Greg Chastain and Dana Siegel from local theater organization Voices of Hope, and Chelmsford middle and high school Drama Director Timmy Chase, among others.

For JulieAnn Govang, the show’s producer and a cast member from Ayer, that means each performance will be completely different from the last.

Govang plays Rona Lisa Peretti, a moderator in the bee who, with her counterpart Vice Principal Douglas Panch, will put those local celebrities on the spot by giving them “impossible words to spell.” She and her co-moderator will also improvise about half their lines, to keep their dialogue “very loose.”

“If I go in and I say, ‘Please spell constituency,’ and he fails at that, how funny would that be,” Govang said. “You never really know what’s going to be said.”

But between the lighthearted, funny moments of the show come the tender, tug-at-your-heartstrings ones, too, said Director Ryan Solero. There is a real “sincerity” of being a young adult going through physical and social changes and dealing with life’s expectations, he said.

“Voices are cracking our voice, we haven’t found ourselves, we’re still trying to make friends, we’re still trying to figure out who we are,” Solero said, “but also dealing with the pressures of the real world.”

One of Solero’s favorite songs from the musical is “The I Love You Song,” in which Olive reflects on her relationship with her absentee parents and confronts those difficult emotions. It’s that honesty, as well as the performers’ skill in “identifying the nuance” of their characters that makes the show, he said.

But just like any real competition, players will be eliminated, so you can’t get too attached to any one speller, Solero said.

“We present a show where the audience could fall in love with any one character sitting in front of them… Only one of them’s going to win, all the other ones will not,” Solero said. “Depending on how these performers go, I end up rooting for more than another.”

Tickets are available online at nashobaplayers.org and at the door — cash and checks only.

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