“Spelling bees are like the Super Bowl for kids who aren’t sports nerds or arts nerds or theatre nerds,” says Sasha Cucciniello. She should know: Cucciniello says she’s a Scrabble nerd. Beginning tonight at the Palm, and for the next five evenings, she will give Scrabble nerds and other compulsive, even competitive spellers their due as she directs The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Telluride Theatre’s spring musical. Though this Tony Award-winning tale of six quirky adolescents vying for a spelling bee championship has become one of the country’s most popular regional productions, it’s never been performed in Telluride.
“It’s been on my radar for some time,” Cucciniello says. She’d seen scenes from it when the play was germinating, back when she was living and acting in New York. “It started downtown, it moved to Broadway,” she says. “It’s different – fun and funny. It’s not your typical big-budget musical.”
Which is a good thing, because Cucciniello doesn’t have a big budget. What she does have is a cast she calls “astounding.” Spelling Bee is a “town musical” because locals, not theatre professionals, are the ones who sing and act in it. Telluride Theatre had put out a casting call earlier this winter. “I didn’t know what I’d get,” Cucciniello says. She was surprised to find “the level of talent was just jaw-dropping good.” The musical clicks along: it’s just one act, only nine performers, and no intermission. A few members from each audience are invited to compete with the cast. The idea worried Cucciniello. “When you invite non-trained actors onstage, there’s always the opportunity to veer way off script,” she says. Luckily, “the playwrights suggested brilliant ways of handling every possible scenario.”
In the course of rehearsals, the cast, who watched the documentary Spellbound to help prepare for their roles, has mastered the words astrobleme, fabaceae and qaimaqam. How well will you do? Spelling Bee runs from Mar. 15-20, at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for children under 16.
Speaking of non-trained actors onstage, one in Montrose seems to be doing splendidly. The Magic Circle Players’ production of Dearly Beloved opened last weekend to standing ovations. Audience member Allyson Shaw Crosby wrote of the comedic farce that “the good-for-nothing son” (played by Scott Baadte) is such a natural, “he makes you believe he really is this person, or has studied acting for years.” In fact, on Baadte’s audition sheet, under “Acting Experience,” he wrote: “None, nada, zero.” Under “Other Experience,” he added: “I was successful ‘acting’ sick as a child a few times.” Director Merrilee Robertson has been with Magic Circle for over 30 years, and knows how to cast a play. Dearly Beloved runs weekends through Mar. 24.
James McMurtry in Ouray
Austin singer-songwriter James McMurtry plays the Wright Opera House on Thursday, March 23. McMurtry is known for his evocative, often searing lyrics. The Nation called “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore,” from his 2005 album Childish Things, one of the greatest protest songs of all time. Here’s a stanza:
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof,
Won’t pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore
“The simple fact,” novelist Stephen King has said, “is that James McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation.”
Much of McMurtry’s work has a take-no-prisoners feel about it. But he also writes songs of great beauty. Even in these (like “The Lights of Cheyenne”), the lyrics are often painful and poignant. In conversation, McMurtry is easygoing, and has a dry sense of humor. I reached him Tuesday afternoon in line at the post office, and we spoke a little about the scene in Austin, which he calls “a blue dot in the middle of a red state.”
McMurtry will play both indoor and outdoor gigs at this week’s South by Southwest music festival, but says his favorite place to make music, by far, is indoors (where he will be in Ouray). “Outside, all the sound – the guitars, the amps, the monitors – is moving away from you. It’s clearly better inside: the room is an instrument. If you have a feeling for how to tune it, you can play it pretty well.” Turns out, he added, that even better than being inside is playing outside, by a swimming pool, surrounded by a Plexiglas wall. It’s a situation that doesn’t come up too often, but did last month on Cayamo, the high-end, alt-country cruise ship where McMurtry performed alongside Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt and other luminaries. Once McMurtry’s sound man figured out how good the grooves were as a result of proximity to the pool, the band poured on the power. “We were the loudest on the boat. We had that, anyway,” McMurtry said.
He’ll release a new album next year. Meanwhile, he’s re-cut “We Can’t Make It Here.” Joan Baez wants to sing it on the Occupy Wall Street album. “We sent it out to her in California – that’s the way music gets made these days – and then we send it to Steve Earle to sing on.” When will it be out? I asked. Who knows, he replied. As he explained of the Occupy organizers, “You never can get a straight answer out of them, because no one wants to say who’s in charge.”
McMurtry plays one night only at the Wright, at 7 p.m. For ticket information, visit wrightoperahouse.com or call 970/325-4399.
Creativity Unlimited at the Ridgway Library
Ridgway Library will host an opening reception for the art show Creativity Unlimited on Saturday, March 17, from 4-6 p.m.,. Twenty-five artists will show their works; the artists range in age from 5-12.
Creativity is the brainchild of Jill Jordan – or rather, her son, Keegan, who wondered aloud one day as they were leaving the library why adults got to have all the art shows, and whether kids couldn’t display their art in the library, too. “So I asked,” Jordan said simply. The show is now in its fourth year.
A few of the artists got together Monday afternoon to discuss their works. Nine-year-old Keegan Jordan has molded “little people out of beeswax,” and placed them in an open-sided box; his sister Gillian Jordan, 6, showed “Rosemary,” a woman’s head made of Styrofoam and trimmed with roses. Delia Harrison, 6, has fashioned “a bluebirds’ nest made of clay,” and Mia Bartschi, 10, will display “kind of a robot sculpture” made of duct tape and kitchen utensils. Bartschi’s younger sister, Anna, will have two pieces of art on view, both “3D pictures.” When asked what the pictures were of, the seven-year-old didn’t miss a beat. “Just abstract,” she replied. Creativity is up through May 11. Stunt Dog Experience in Telluride
A week from today, March 22, director Chris Perondi will bring his cavalcade of canines to The Palm for one show only at 6 p.m. It will be an evening of “amazing tricks, big air stunts, comedy antics, dancing dogs and athletic feats,” as his press release puts it (Perondi was a Bay Area web designer before he became a stunt-dog trainer 13 years ago, and still produces his website himself, and writes all his own copy). The dogs, mostly Jack Russell mixes and other high-energy animals, such as Border collies and cattle dogs, are all rescues, and Perondi and The Palm are partnering with the Second Chance Humane Society, which will be on site at the show.
Training dogs came naturally to Perondi, who has always been around and loved animals. “We had had four or five dogs and cats” when he was growing up in Stockton, Calif., he says. He began training dogs for one reason: “The whole thing started because I wanted my dog to catch a Frisbee.” Perondi was an avid study – he watched what others were doing, taught his own dogs, and eventually, he was doing Frisbee demonstrations. He kept reading – and watching. The tricks grew more complex. Soon, the number of dogs he owned was growing, too. Eventually, “I was calling in sick to work so I could go out and perform these shows,” he recalls. “It was getting ridiculous.” He quit to become a stunt-dog-trainer full time. That was 13 years ago. Today he’s performed over 3,500 shows, and he and his dogs (he tours with nine) have been on Ellen, The Tonight Show and Oprah. A network of shelters keeps Perondi supplied with animals that are too-tightly-wrapped for other owners to handle. “Too much energy for them,” he says, “is perfect for us.” Perondi’s original stunt dog, Pepper, is 16. “She’s still with me,” he says. She lives with his parents.
Tickets for Stunt Dog experience are $22 (children and students: $16). For more information, visit telluridepalm.com.