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Joan Marcus
"Bee" features Vanessa Ray, front left, Eric Roediger, Dana Steingold; Justin Keyes, back left, Katie Boren, Andrew Keenan-Bolger.

When "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" first opened in New York in 2005, critics had a heyday. "How do you spell h-i-t?" and "The most f-u-n I've had in years!"

A spelling bee may seem an odd premise for a musical comedy. After all, most are filled with nerves, self-doubt and plenty of adolescent jitters. That's precisely what makes "Spelling Bee" so entertaining.

The six student competitors share their methods of spelling (trust me, it's cute), and they also give us a peek into their personal lives, which are amusing and sometimes sad. They worry about being smart enough, worry about losing, worry that dad isn't going to show up, and are outraged that some kids have to spell "phylactery" while others only have to spell "telephone."

This is not a bee for the whole family, however. Keep in mind, the students are prepubescent Some of those changes and struggles are not family friendly but will put a smile on adult faces who have been through adolescence. If you were a champion speller in your day, be on the lookout for an opportunity to spell again.

Performances are at the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. Prices range from $25-$60.

"Spelling Bee" has members of the audience compete onstage including local radio DJ Bill Allred on opening night and talk show host Doug Wright on Wednesday night.

Here are other productions opening this week:

• "BIG RIVER" opens Saturday and runs through March 29 at Rodgers Memorial Theatre, 292 E. Pages Lane, Centerville.

This Tony award-winning musical (with songs and lyrics by Roger Miller) ran for years on Broadway. The Rodgers' production will be directed by J.D. Madsen and choreographed by Julie Boyer, with musical direction by Vicki Belnap.

Performances are nightly except Sundays at 7:30 p.m. On weeknights, the tickets are $13 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens. On weekends the cost is $16 and $14. Children are $9 every night. For reservations call 298-1302.

• "JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH" is a production by Cleveland Signstage on Tour, featuring deaf as well as hearing actors bringing one of Roald Dahl's best-loved stories to the stage at Brigham Young University in Provo.

The story is one of a small boy whose parents die and who is sent to live with his cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge. When a mysterious man gives James a gift, his life changes.

Signstage on Tour specializes in this type of production, where deaf and hearing actors perform together on stage The characters speak in American Sign Language while their voices come from different actors speaking through a microphone, sometimes onstage and sometimes offstage.

"James and the Giant Peach" plays Friday and Saturday evenings at the de Jong Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

Tickets for the evening shows are $10 for adults and $6 for students and children. All matinee tickets are $6. Group discounts are available. Call the BYU Fine Arts Ticket Office at 422-4322 or visit performances.byu.edu.

• "THE MIRACLE WORKER": The Phoenix Theatre Company will open its production of William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker" on Saturday, March 1, at the Academy of Performing Arts Complex, 3188 S. 400 East, South Salt Lake. The story of Helen Keller, "The Miracle Worker" is billed as an American theater classic. The cast includes talented performers from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including Holly Anderson as Annie Sullivan, and double cast in the role of Helen Keller are Kayla Armstrong and Summer Sloan.

"The Miracle Worker" will play every Monday, Friday and Saturday evening through March 22 at 7:30 p.m. There is a special matinee performance scheduled on Saturday, March 22, at 2 p.m. For information on events or academy classes, call 486-2728 or look online at academyofpa.org.

• "WEST SIDE STORY: WHEN WILL WE LEARN?" Weber State University department of performing arts presents "West Side Story" in the Allred Theater. Directed by Jim Christian, "West Side Story" is an American with some of the most loved Broadway songs and fabulous dance sequences. Christian, known for his excellent choreography, sent the cast home over the semester break with instructions to "come back in the best physical condition of your lives. You will need it!"

The play starts at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, with performances March 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and at 2 p.m., March 8. The March 1 performance will feature American Sign Language interpretation.

Tickets are $5.50 for students, seniors and those with military ID. Call Dee Events Center tickets 800-978-8457. For more information, contact Jim Christian at 626-6992 or [email protected].

E-mail: [email protected]