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British, American theater students pair up for productions

The British are coming, and they are armed with song.

British theater students are teaming up with those in Las Vegas to offer five musical performances this weekend at the Clark County Library and Cashman Center as part of a student travel program organized by the Las Vegas International Performing Arts Exchange.

The program started in 1996 in a collaboration with students from Shanghai. This will be the exchange’s first work with Act Now Entertainment of London and its artistic leader, Matthew Chandler.

The first of the two shows, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," is planned for 7 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road. It is a musical comedy about the challenges of adolescence. As the bee progresses, the six spellers’ backstories will be told through flashbacks.

The second show, "At the Corner of Broadway and West End," is scheduled for 2 and 7 p.m. Monday at the Cashman Center, 850 Las Vegas Blvd. North. It was described by director Jennifer Hemme as a "revue of songs from musicals, popular music and songs from London."

"The kids are doing several numbers popular in London, stuff we haven’t even seen yet (in the U.S.)," said Hemme, the theater teacher at Green Valley High School.

Following those performances, 12 local teens plan to fly to London and give five performances just days before the start of the Olympics at the Waterloo East Theatre in central London and the Normansfield Theatre, which was featured in an episode of the TV drama "Downton Abbey."

Act Now did an exchange program with the Baltimore School for the Arts from 2005-10.

"It is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had with the kids," Chandler said. "… The big thing about this is bringing together the talented kids from Nevada and London, and they experience an international feel to what they’re doing."

Chandler was in Las Vegas for about two weeks working with the Americans before his 22 British students, ages 7 to 21, arrived for rehearsals.

Chandler said it was a challenge assimilating everyone during his first trip to Baltimore.

"We didn’t know what we were doing," he said. "But seven years down the line, it’s really easy."

He said it helps that most of the students grew up knowing the same musicals. Several of his students also saw "Spelling Bee" last year in London.

Hemme wanted to make it clear that "Spelling Bee" is a PG-13 show. It also requires participation in the bee from members of the audience.

Tickets for both productions are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors if purchased in advance at showtix4u.com. Tickets at the doors will be $15 and $12, respectively.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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