PMSS revives musical theatre program

Spelling Bee is Port Moody secondary school’s first spring musical in 13 years

It’s Jesse Meredith they thank.

The 20 students at Port Moody secondary are giving a big shout-out to the EAL, drama and dance teacher who arrived last September to fill in for the academic year.

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After all, it was Meredith’s idea to revive the Albert Street school’s musical theatre program after a 13-year hiatus.

And it’s Meredith who’s been giving the cast and crew an outlet — after school hours, since January — to fulfill their theatrical passions.

Next month, they’ll showcase PMSS’ first musical since 2006: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a Tony award-winning Broadway romp about a fictional spelling contest set in the gym of a fictional middle school.

Last fall, Meredith — a Riverside secondary graduate who rose to national fame in 2014 after he placed third in the CBC reality TV show Recipes to Riches — and collaborator Shelby Simmons, an educational assistant at PMSS who is also a choreographer, put out an open call to see who would be interested in performing.

They chose Leanna Carson, Anthony Gao, Zara Mansuurian, Harrison Maynard-Doyon, Natalie Quiring and Maddy Quong-Lee as the six quirky spellers. And they also recruited Monica Leca, Christina Xu and Christopher Maller for the adult parts: the comfort counsellor, the emcee and the vice-principal.

Xu and Maller (the son of Justin Maller, Gleneagle secondary’s drama instructor) said they delved into the original recordings to hear the musical — which has 15 songs including My Friend, the Dictionary and Pandemonium — while other students said they watched YouTube videos for their research.

Having the chance to reintroduce spring musicals to PMSS has been “really cool and fun,” said Natalie Quiring, a Grade 11 student who plays Olive Ostrovsky, a young newcomer to the bee circuit. “This [group] has become like a family to me and we all like being on stage.”

For Mansuurian, an international student from the Ukraine who arrived at PMSS last September, the musical gives the 16-year-old girl an opportunity to display her musical skills.

“I’ve always loved acting and it means a lot to have a big musical at our school,” said Quong-Lee, a Grade 9 student who portrays the character Marcy Park, an overachiever. “I really hope that we continue having them.”

Tickets for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are $10 at the door on show night or in advance from the school reception (300 Albert St., Port Moody). It runs May 1 to 3 at 7 p.m. Call 604-939-6656. 

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