No losers here: The Ritz hopes for a return to glory with latest production
by Brett Buckner
brettbuckner@ymail.com
Mar 30, 2012 | 3406 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The cast of Red Mountain Theater Company’s production of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ is shown. The musical runs April 5-6 at the historic Ritz Theatre in Talladega. Photo: Special to The Star
The cast of Red Mountain Theater Company’s production of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ is shown. The musical runs April 5-6 at the historic Ritz Theatre in Talladega. Photo: Special to The Star
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Sometimes, even losers win. Such is the inspiring premise for the upcoming musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which will run April 5 and 6 at the historic Ritz Theatre in Talladega.

The show follows an adorable cast of underdogs — the geeks, outcasts, misfits and social rejects — who all spell their way to glory (along with a trophy and a $200 savings bond) and along the way discover that being normal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that being quirky is what makes them special.

“People might want to think this is a children’s show, but it’s not,” explained George Culver, executive director for The Ritz. “It’s actually pretty adult.”

In fact, Culver had to convince the show’s director to make a minor change to one of the songs so as not to offend the audience. The song “My Unfortunate Erection,” is now “My Unfortunate Situation.”

“We just wanted to be careful,” Culver said. “And the company was great about making the change … really wasn’t a big deal.”

That’s a good sign, because if all things go according to plan, this may be the beginning of an ongoing collaboration. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is being performed and produced by Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theater Company.

“It just made sense,” Culver said. “We wanted to set the precedent and see where it goes from there.”

It’s not the first time the two theaters have shared talent and performance space. Some three years ago, The Ritz hosted a performance of Red Mountain’s production of “Godspell.” And while this isn’t necessarily a touring show, the opportunity to play venues beyond the norm is a tremendous experience for the actors, said Red Mountain’s executive director Keith Cromwell.

“We’re motivated to get our artists as much growth and exposure as possible,” he said. “Just the idea that you can create art and have it consumed by another community is very exciting. I’d love for Red Mountain to be all over this state, to create a product that becomes available to audiences everywhere, and I believe we’ve got the talent to do that.

“Hopefully, this is just the start.”

It’s something of a new beginning for The Ritz as well. The historic theater had fallen on hard financial times in recent years, and there were concerns that it might have to close. But with Culver’s return following three years at the Birmingham Children’s Theater, plans are in the works to, as Culver calls it, “reboot the Ritz.”

“I had a wonderful three years (in Birmingham) and truly felt comfortable that I’d accomplished everything there that I’d set out to do,” he said. “I’m a local guy. When I heard that The Ritz might go under, I knew I had to get home and help set things right again.”

Part of that new dawn is with the collaboration with Red Mountain Theater Company. The Ritz is also planning on hosting a couple of national touring productions — one for “Fiddler on the Roof” and another of “Biloxi Blues” — in the near future.

The Ritz has recently expanded, adding more than 100 seats to its balcony. But perhaps the most appreciated renovation will be the upgrade to a HVAC climate control system in the theater, which will open new windows of possibility for the Ritz.

“We’ll be able to offer shows 12 months a year,” Culver said, adding that the theater will likely close for a couple of months starting in May to complete the overhaul. “Now, we won’t have to worry about hosting shows in the heat of summer or the chill of winter. We’ll have a lot more flexibility.

“With that … they’ll be no stopping us. We’re going to get The Ritz back to where it was.”

Contact Brett Buckner at brettbuckner@ymail.com.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

When:
April 5 and 6 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Ritz Theatre, 115 Court Square N., Talladega

Cost: $18 for adults and $10 for students (18 and under)

Contact: 256-315-0000 or visit www.talladegaritz.com
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