You’re 12 years old, standing on a stage in front of a packed auditorium. You step up to the microphone and break into a cold sweat as a booming voice commands you over the P.A. system: “Spell… CREPUSCULE.”

This moment of adolescent angst has been spun into the delightfully funny musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which opens Friday night, May 2nd at the Chester Theater Group. Six young people in the throes of puberty vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime, overseen by three grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves. Along the way, they learn that winning isnt everything and losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

The fun kicks into high gear when four real audience members are invited on stage each night to compete in the bee alongside the six young characters (who are all played by young adults). The musical was nominated for six Tony Awards in 2005, winning two, including Best Book.

The CTG production is directed by Roseann Ruggiero with musical direction by Tracy Lee Witko. The wonderful ensemble cast features both newcomers and veterans of the Chester stage. Playing the kids are Allie Acquafredda of Lodi (Olive), Ethan Lynch of Randolph (Leaf), Zach Mazouat of Morristown (William Barfee), Becky Nitka of Hackettstown (Loggaine), Christina Pirog of Flanders (Marcy), and Esteban Vazquez of Morristown (Chip). As for the adults, Barbara Haag of Chester portrays moderator (and ex-champion) Rona Lisa Perretti, David Romankow of Gillette plays Vice-Principal Douglas Panch, and Budd Lake’s Michael McEntee is Mitch Mahoney, an ex-con serving as “comfort counselor” to the stressed kids as part of his court-mandated community service.

Spelling Bee runs until May 18th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM and Sunday matinees at 2PM. Tickets are $25 with a $2 discount available for seniors aged 65 and over and students under 18. Tickets can be purchased online on the theater’s web site: www.chestertheatregroup.com or requested by phone by calling the 908-879-7304.

Chester Theatre Group is located at 54 Grove Street in downtown Chester, NJ at the corner of Grove Street and Maple Avenue. It’s theater is a charming, intimate, 100-seat, in-the-round venue that makes for a unique and memorable theatergoing experience for all.

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