March 28, 2018

William Barfee, Michele Zofchak, Dawn Stewart and Brittany Poelma rehearse last week for the musical.

Contributed William Barfee, Michele Zofchak, Dawn Stewart and Brittany Poelma rehearse last week for the musical.

KEY LARGO — Six kids wrought with awkwardness and puberty take to the stage, vying to be the best speller in the Key Players upcoming production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” This musical comedy makes it OK to be a geek with such songs as “My Friend, the Dictionary.”

That song draws laughs with such lyrics as “The fact that in one book is the entire language of our species, which is a favorite term of Nietzsche’s, who’s the great-grandfather of Christina Ricci’s.”

The play, which is based on a fast-paced, funny and endearing book by Rachel Sheinkin, earned a Tony Award in 2005, the year it went to Broadway. A second award went to Dan Fogler for Best Featured Actor in the original play.

During the 2005 Tony Awards, former 2004 Presidential candidate and civil rights activist Al Sharpton competed on stage and misspelled “dengue.”

Key Players member Kelly Sutter got the idea to do this musical about a year ago. 

“It’s overall just a fun show to watch,” she said. “It’s unpredictable, it’s lighthearted. There is audience participation and they can possibly win the spelling bee.”

Not only is Sutter staring as “Leaf Coneybear,” she’s also directing the show. 

“‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ I know, it’s a very long name,” she said. “I love musicals, and I brought this one up about a year ago. I planned on being in it, not directing it, but Hurricane Irma threw a wrench in things. I’ve directed a few plays in college, but this is my first gig directing with the Key Players. This is big.”

The musical features nine performers.

“I had to find a good a musical director, and I got lucky, I was able to get Michelle Zofchak. I also found a great choreographer, Brittany Poelma. She studied dance in college,” Sutter said.

Sutter has been with the Key Players for three seasons and says the acting troupe is like family to her.

“We work really hard on these plays,” she said. “We’re all passionate about theater and are all playing double roles. We also had a date change, as this was supposed to be on stage in February and we had to move this one back.”

The Key Players have been rehearsing this musical comedy since November.

Choreographer Brittany Poelma is responsible for any movement that happens on stage, a feat she says is challenging since actors must be focused on their movements while singing.

“It’s a hurdle being able to maintain movement and sing at the same time. Both can be demanding and it’s hard focusing on both,” she said.

Poelma’s orchestrated dance moves for the actors in the songs, “Pandemonium,” “Magic Foot” and “I Speak Six Languages.”

She’s also cast as “Marcy Park” in the show. 

“She’s incredibly smart and talented and only loses the bee because she throws it. She’s tired of being so perfect all the time,” Poelma says of her character.

Poelma also learned to spell “phylactery” and “kaimakam” and knows what they mean.

Her favorite part of the show is when “Vice Principal Douglas Panch,” played by husband Jacob Poelma, improvises with the audience.

“My husband has a funny role. He gets to improvise and completely engage the audience. He knows how to work a crowd and make it funny, but never at anyone’s expense. I may be a bit biased, of course, but he’s really good at interacting with the audience,” she said.

Poelma too has a interesting story. 

“I grew up doing dance and theater and went to college to pursue dance, but I fell in love with marine science and switched to psychology,” she said. “I work with dolphins now as a Dolphins Plus marine mammal responder.”

The acting troupe goes into dress rehearsals next week for its upcoming performances starting April 6. 

The Key Players production will be held at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, mile marker 102, bayside. Curtains open at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 6, and Saturday, April 7, with a matinee show set for 2 p.m. Sunday, April 8. The following week curtains open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12, through Saturday, April 14.

Advance tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Key Largo Chocolates, Shear Paradise or PostNet. Tickets at the door are $18. For more information, visit or find Key Players on Facebook.