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Menahga, Park Rapids students present joint musical

The Park Rapids and Menahga high school drama departments have, once again, teamed up for a musical comedy production.

"The 25th Annual Spelling Bee" is a 2005 Broadway show and Tony Award winner.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 25-27 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. at the PRAHS auditorium.

Inspired by a play called "C-R-E-P-U-S-C-L-E," produced by the improvisation company The Farm, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is a hilariously quirky depiction of the modern-day spelling bee, says Park Rapids new drama director, Abby Sellnow.

"It will have you laughing out loud as you fall in love with the eclectic group of spellers, each eager to win," she said.

Six mid-pubescents are vying for the spelling championship. While candidly disclosing funny and touching stories from their home lives, the tweens spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing, pout-inducing, life un-affirming "ding" of the bell that signals a spelling mistake. Six spellers enter; one speller leaves. At least the losers get a juice box.

"I am thrilled to be taking on the position of theatre director," Sellnow said. "The high schoolers are extremely talented and a blast to work with. I grew up acting with several theatre companies in southeastern Minnesota. Most recently, I have been acting with the Northern Light Opera Company (NLOC). I studied theatre performance at Minnesota State University Moorhead."

Menahga's choir director, April Hodge, is the show's music director. Hodge describes her role in "The 25th Annual Spelling Bee" as a "new adventure."

"What's not new to me is working with high schoolers or even being involved in musicals," she said. "I've enjoyed participating in NLOC's 'Sound of Music' and 'The Music Man,' and have helped with music at the Nevis Muskie Days Children's Theater Productions with Beth Grafenstein."

Recruiting Menahga students to the musical "has been a great pleasure," Hodge said. "I am thrilled that we have quadrupled the representation from Menahga. One of my students has never been in a musical before, and got one of the lead roles. We are very proud of all of them! It is a wonderful co-op that we have created between Park Rapids and Menahga. It has been a great fit for me! I can really see this program grow, as it has been such a fun and new adventure for some of our Menahga students."

Hodge said she also enjoys working with Deane Johnson on oboe and clarinet, plus Sarah Kaufenberg on keyboard. The orchestra pit will feature Menahga student Erin Gonska on tenor sax, Park Rapids High School alumna Shania Farlee on flute as well as Bill Hodge on percussion as well.

"I look forward to working with Abby Sellnow in the future. I think we make a really good team," Hodge concluded.

Technical directors are Jamie Jokela and Victoria Harju. Katie Jaeger is the show's choreographer.

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