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Singing their way through the final round

Kyle Allen, 17, plays Barfee, who spells words with his foot. Kyle Allen, 17, plays Barfee, who spells words with his foot. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / July 14, 2011

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WAYLAND - Here’s Logan’s dilemma in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’’:

“She has a lisp, and every word she has to spell has an ‘s’ in it,’’ said Lexington High School senior Emma Feinberg, who is performing the role when the Vokes Players presents the Tony Award-winning musical beginning next Thursday.

Director John Barrett has cast six actors, ages 17 to 22, to play the parts of the contestants, who are of middle school age.

“Usually the parts are played by 30- and 40-year-olds,’’ said Barrett. “As it happened, the best performers I got at auditions for the spellers were either college or high school age. They’re closer to the ages of the characters.

“These kids can really sing. Their harmonies are really beautiful.’’ All six are making their Vokes debut. “We’re always looking for new blood,’’ said Barrett. “We’re very excited to have six new and very talented performers in the company.’’

At 22, Andrew Levine is the oldest actor cast in the role of a contestant. His theater work flourished as a student at Wayland High School, where he was in nine shows - from “Hamlet’’ to “Godspell,’’ “Footloose’’ to “Working’’ - that stretched his range.

“I just wanted to be on stage, I guess. I like singing a lot,’’ said Levine. It started when he was 8. He was cast in “Annie Get Your Gun,’’ performed in Framingham.

Levine graduated this spring from Georgetown University, where he earned a degree in government with minors in theology and religion. He figured he’d just kick back and relax for a while: “I was expecting a peaceful summer.’’

Then his sister, Melanie, told him Vokes was doing “Spelling Bee.’’ She persuaded him to audition. “The day I came back from a week’s vacation, I auditioned the next day,’’ said Levine.

He’s playing the role of Chip, who enters the spelling bee with an air of confidence. “He’s good at everything he does, so he expects to win,’’ said Levine, but learns that life’s not that easy. “He’s surprised to see that things don’t go his way like they usually do.’’

Caitlin O’Brien, 19, sees a bit of herself in her character, Marcy, whom she describes as insecure. “I was in seventh grade, pretty much Marcy’s age, when my mother signed me up for a theater school. I was kind of shy. I didn’t have a lot of friends. Theater school brought me out of my shell.’’

In the show, O’Brien explained, “Marcy just moved to Putnam County. I think she’s someone who just needed time to be a little kid.’’ O’Brien can relate to the moving. She was 15 when her family settled in Sudbury, from Pittsburgh.

“Marcy’s the ultimate overachiever,’’ said O’Brien. “She doesn’t think about anything but perfection.’’ But that’s somewhat of a front, and it exacts a toll, she said.

At Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, O’Brien did “Kiss Me Kate.’’ She just finished her freshman year at Framingham State University, where she was cast in “Into the Woods’’ and “Angels in America.’’

O’Brien didn’t have any particular role in mind when she auditioned for “Spelling Bee.’’ “I wasn’t familiar with the show. I would have taken any part.’’

Natick High senior Kyle Allen, 17, gets to play William Barfee. “He has a brain disorder, and has a magic foot, which is how he spells out the words,’’ said Allen. There is dancing, then there is a dancing foot that spells out words, an unusual bit of choreography that Allen has found challenging. “The longer words are really tough,’’ he said. “I didn’t audition for the part, but when I got it, I said ‘OK, just give it a shot.’ It’s good experience.’’

Allen honed his acting skills working with the Weston Drama Workshop at Regis College. That’s where he met Bailey Seeker of Wellesley. They became close friends, and she talked Allen into auditioning for “Spelling Bee.’’

Seeker, 20, landed the part of Olive. “I’ve always wanted to play her.’’ And what’s Olive’s story? For starters, her parents aren’t around much. “She’s very shy. She doesn’t have many friends,’’ said Seeker. “Her favorite thing is the dictionary. She finds comfort in it.’’

Seeker moved from Seattle to Wellesley two years ago, and just finished her second year at New York University as a theater major. “I’ve always known I wanted to do theater since I was 6.’’ In kindergarten she was cast in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.’’

Seeker was also busy with sports - swimming, tennis, water polo, soccer, softball, basketball. “Water polo was my main one. In high school we won the state title twice.’’ But once she got the acting bug, she cut back on athletics. “I just did theater and water polo.’’

At NYU, Seeker appeared in “Children of Eden’’ and “Reefer Madness.’’ She had never seen Wayland’s Vokes Theatre, built in 1904, until she auditioned. “It’s the cutest environment. I love it,’’ she said.

When Emma Feinberg was in elementary school she went to see her drama teacher, Melissa Sine, perform in a Vokes production of “The Devil’s Disciple.’’ “I loved the play and the theater,’’ said Feinberg. Now she’s on that stage. “I saw the original ‘Spelling Bee’ tour show twice. I loved it.’’

Feinberg sees a theater life as her destiny. “It started in elementary school. The idea of performing was a given.’’ She’s appeared at the Wheelock Theatre in Boston, the Concord Youth Theater, and more recently at the Open Door Theater in Acton, where she did “The Wiz,’’ “Big,’’ and “Tom Sawyer.’’

For Groton resident Doug Dulaney, the Vokes production gives him a second chance to be in “Spelling Bee.’’ “I always wanted to be in it. I got a call back when I auditioned for it at Muhlenberg Summer Theater, but didn’t get cast.’’ Dulaney, 21, is a senior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

At Groton-Dunstable Regional High, Dulaney began theater as a sophomore, putting his baritone voice to good use in “Grease,’’ “Carousel’’ and “Bye Bye Birdie.’’

In “Spelling Bee’’ Dulaney plays Leaf Coneybear (you can’t make these names up). In the contest, Dulaney said, “Leaf’s out of his league. He sings ‘I’m not that smart.’ But he enters the spelling bee for the adventure. He’s surprised at how he does. He leaves with a sense of self-worth.’’

And so should all the bright-eyed, gifted performers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’’

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Performances July 21 to Aug. 6 at the Vokes Theatre, Route 20, Wayland.

For tickets, call 508-358-4034 or go to www.vokesplayers.org.