People who attend this weekend's Darby High School theater production might want to dust off their dictionaries and start studying.

People who attend this weekend's Darby High School theater production might want to dust off their dictionaries and start studying.

That's because "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" features a segment during which a couple of the audience members will compete alongside the cast. They'll be asked to spell words ranging from the simple to the impossible.

"There is an element of improvisation," director Justin Gates said. "Each show will be completely different in the fact that we'll have some people up there that weren't expecting to be on stage that night. It's a lot of fun."

Because it is a musical and there is the surprise element of having non-actors on stage, the cast has been rehearsing since mid-December, Gates said. They've got their parts down, he said, and they're prepared for the unexpected.

"I'm very excited to see what they do. It was their suggestion that we do the show. I am very confident in their abilities."

The PG-13 play has a "snack break" and lasts two hours or more, depending on how many rounds the audience members survive in the bee. Set in the gym of Putnam Valley Middle School, "Spelling Bee" features six quirky adolescents competing in a bee run by three quirky adults.

"It's probably one of the funniest shows I've ever seen," Gates said. "It does get really exciting, because there is an element of the unknowable with it."

Gates, who teaches social studies, said 65 students are in Darby's theater program, and another 10 or 15 participate.

"We accept everyone in the theater," Gates said. "If you're willing to work hard and learn what it's like to be a professional in theater, we welcome you into any shows that we're doing."

Darby has three major productions and three smaller productions during the school year, he said.

For "Spelling Bee," Gates said, students built the set, are involved with all the technical aspects of the show, and perform the music.

Some troupe members have even made their own costumes.

"It's all about teamwork," he said. "As long as you have the right team, you can pretty much do anything. It's not one of those big productions ... It's really more about character, that's what this show is about. It's on the adorable side."

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3 and 4, at the Darby High School Theater, 4200 Leppert Road.

Tickets cost $7, with student and senior citizen discounts available. For more information or tickets, visit www.hilliarddarbytheater.org.