While Mai Abe has always embraced the musical side of musical theater, it took a while for the San Jose resident to get comfortable with the theatrical portion. Once she did, she surprised herself by turning pro.
Abe is making her regional debut as Marcy in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” running Nov. 29-Dec. 24 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. She auditioned with James Monroe Iglehart, a Tony Award-winning actor who made his Broadway debut in “Bee” and is acting as creative producer for TheatreWorks’ production.
“I never thought TheatreWorks was in the cards for me,” Abe says. “I only started doing theater recently.
“I’ve always been involved in music in some way,” says the music therapist. “I grew up playing piano and got an undergraduate degree in clarinet.”
Abe’s passion for theater was muted early on by a lack of opportunity.
“In the early 2000s, the demographics of Broadway weren’t the demographics you see today. You didn’t see the diversity you see today,” says Abe, an Asian American. “It didn’t feel like there was a space for me.”
The pandemic changed her perspective and gave her a chance to hire staff at her therapy practice so she’d have time to audition.
“I was really lucky to have the ability to slow down,” she says.
Abe has since had roles with The Pear in Mountain View, Sunnyvale Community Players, Foothill Music Theatre in Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto Players.
Pursuing her passion gave Abe some insight into her character in the musical, who is vying a slot at the National Spelling Bee. At age 30, Abe says, “It’s been really fun to get into the mindset of middle school.
“It’s been a long time since I visited that part of my life,” she adds. “The stakes were so high in middle school. … A lot of the characters are Type A perfectionists.”
The scripted characters are joined by four volunteers from the audience who act as spelling bee contestants for each performance, adding an element of improvisation to the show.
“In the script, there are certain places that suggest where the volunteers should get kicked out of the show, but it doesn’t always work that way,” Abe says. “Some people are better spellers than others.
“You have to be on your game to know which sequence of events are going to happen.”
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs Nov. 29-Dec. 24 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Single tickets start at $27 at theatreworks.org or 877-662-8978.
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment