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‘Spelling’ beelines to B’way

'Bee' spells quick Tony competish

The Tony Award for musical just got very competitive.

The much-acclaimed “Spelling Bee” at Second Stage will open at Broadway’s Circle in the Square on May 2, two days before the Tony nominations cutoff date, producer David Stone announced Monday.

As for making the commercial transfer sooner and not later, Stone said, “The reason to come to Broadway quickly has to do with keeping the cast together and momentum.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin, nabbed positive reviews when it opened earlier this year at the nonprofit Second Stage. The show extended two weeks and sold out within five days, said Stone. The producer had acquired commercial rights to “Spelling Bee” prior to its first incarnation, at the Berkshire’s Barrington Stage last summer, and enhanced that production. The nine-member cast has remained intact since then, except for the addition of Jose Llana.

Mary Zimmerman’s pool play “Metamophoses” was the last Second Stage staging to transfer to Broadway, in 2002, and it also went into the intimate 678-seat Circle in the Square. Like the Barrington and Second Stage spaces, the Circle is an amphitheater. “When you have adults playing children, it helps not to look up at them, as you would in a traditional proscenium theater,” Stone explained.

As its title would indicate, the tuner replicates a school spelling bee. “At the Circle, we can make it more environmental, more like a school auditorium, than we could in a gilded rococo theater,” the producer said.

The “Spelling Bee” transfer is not good news for producers of other new tuners. It is easily the best reviewed new musical to open this season, and is almost assured one of the four noms for musical. Yet to open are “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Spamalot,” “All Shook Up,” “The Light in the Piazza” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

“Spelling Bee” is already gearing up to be this season’s “Avenue Q,” the little tuner that went on to win the Tony. Last season, “Wicked” played the Goliath role and lost. Since Stone is a producer of “Wicked,” he has been here before — but on the other side. “Right now, I’m just thinking about moving the show,” he said.

“Spelling Bee” begins previews April 15 at Circle in the Square. James Lapine directs the production.

In addition to Stone, the show’s producer team includes James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Barrington Stage Co. and Second Stage Theater.

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