Talent Time to stage ‘Spelling Bee’ at BHS

Now in its 68th year, Talent Time Players will spell out what makes it great through zany musical

Photo Courtesy of Talent Time Players
Actors from the Talent Time Players in ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ From left, top row, are Niko Lento and Jaquel Spivey; middle row, Amber Smith and Soula Garcia; and bottom row, Frankie Perez and Gemma Eshelman.

BLOOMFIELD. NJ — The Talent Time Players, now it their 68th year, will present the musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” this week with evening performances Thursday through Saturday in the Bloomfield High School Auditorium at 8 p.m.

When the original musical played on Broadway, there were nine in the cast, but Talent Time has added a choir and has a cast of 22. Tarajee Karriem, the show’s choir director and executive director of the Charles Sellers Foundation, which oversees Talent Time, said the choir was the idea of Director Tom Russo. The addition allows more people to perform and hopefully, more friends and family to come out to see a performance, she said.

Proceeds from performances benefit a local child with extraordinary medical needs. This year, 2-year-old Andrew Conforti, of Carlstadt, is the beneficiary. He was selected by Kaitlyn Gandolfi, a vice-president of the Charles Sellers Foundation. Gandolfi said Andrew came to her attention by word-of-mouth, and she also searched the website “Go Fund Me.”

According to Karriem, Andrew has a tumor behind his eye for which he is undergoing chemotherapy. She said young people coming together to help the community is a core belief of the foundation.
The Charles Sellers Foundation selected “Spelling Bee” from about 10 musicals. Karriem said the executive board heard from four directors. Other shows pitched included: “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Annie,” “Cinderella,” “Oliver” and “Godspell.”

According to Karriem, “‘Spelling Bee’ offers a lot of opportunities for actors to explore their range. All characters are quirky and distinct and have their own song which embodies them. There are six spellers and four volunteer spellers from the audience.”

“Spelling Bee,” written by Rachel Sheinkin, with music by William Finn, previewed April 15, 2005, on Broadway at Circle in the Square. It opened May 2, 2005, and closed Jan. 20, 2008, after 1,136 performances, after winning multiple Tony Awards, including Best Book for a Musical.

Audience participation is a distinction of the show and is scripted for the first act. Karriem acknowledged the possibility that a good speller may get on stage and have a streak of luck. But getting rid of spellers is part of the fun, so they are either given a nonsensical word or a very simple one which the spelling judge — ringing a desk bell — brazenly deems incorrect. Audience elimination never fails to get a laugh from the house. After all, the show must go on. All exiting losers, cast members included, get a hug from a comfort counselor — a character doing community service because of a run-in with the law — along with a small carton of orange juice and a song.

“For audience members, some words are made up,” Karriem said. “There’s also a pool of words for them. But the actors have specific ones. The show has a lot of improvisation.”

A serious injury was the starting point for the Talent Time Players. On the morning of July 17, 1950, a recent BHS graduate, Charles Sellers, attempted to board a moving eastbound train at the Osborne Street station in Glen Ridge. He approached the train from the track bed and managed to grab the steps railing. But he misjudged the speed of the train and was spun off; his right leg landed on the track and required amputation at the knee. Sellers’ friends decided to create a variety show with ticket proceeds going to Sellers. The show was a success, raising $4,600. With these results, the notion to make the show an annual benefit took root. Sellers gave $500 to help it along. He currently lives in Pennsylvania and occasionally comes to the annual show.

Russo is in his third year with the Talent Time Players. In 2015, he served as the assistant musical director for “Legally Blonde,” and last year he was the musical director for “Footloose.”

“The show was easy to cast,” Russo said, adding “30 people auditioned. The leads were very easy to cast. There were no issues.”

While the cast has been expanded, the crew is made up of only three people. The music is live, and includes two keyboards, a drums, guitar, bass and wind. Bloomfield residents participating in the production are Amber Smith, Ashley Keddell, Bearenne Julian, Tristan Quinonez, Emmanuel Odekunle, Gemma Eshelman, Julia Aiello, Katerine Tineo, Linzee Duncan , Maria Rivas, Mark Schellhorn, Maxwell Addae, Rebekah Silva, Tyler Vanterpool, Richard Mogollon, Jim Miles, Pete Bechmann and Soula Garcia.

The final performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is Saturday, Aug. 12. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2956770.

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