Theater newbies AC, Shanaia, Angela shine in ‘Spelling Bee’

(from left) AC Bonifacio, Angela Ken and Shanaia Gomez | Photographs by Lorenzo Corro, courtesy of The Sandbox Collective

Star Magic artists AC Bonifacio, Shanaia Gomez and Angela Ken are making their theater debut in the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which opened last 24 February and will continue to run this March at the PowerMac Center Spotlight Theater in Circuit Makati.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is an award-winning interactive Broadway piece written by William Finn, both music and lyrics, with book by Rachel Sheinkin. It’s about six mid-pubescent students in a fictional middle school in the United States who vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. Along the way, they disclose hilarious and touching stories from their home lives.

AC and Shanaia alternate in the role of Marcy Park, an overachieving and most feared competitor in the spelling bee. Angela, on the other hand, shares the role of Olive Ostrovsky, a shy newcomer whose best friend is the dictionary, with another Star Magic artist, Krystal Brimmer. Krystal previously worked in the musicals Annie, Sound of Music and Silver Lining.

The four young actresses, just like the rest of the cast playing the youthful spelling bee contestants, had to audition and go through the process. They were encouraged by their managers under Star Magic, the talent management arm of ABS-CBN, to expand their performing horizons. Star Magic is also a partner of the musical’s producer, The Sandbox Collective, which is celebrating its 10th year in the theater industry.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” AC said at the media launch. “I’ve been dancing since I was three. I knew right then and there na I just want to be on the stage. It didn’t matter where or what I’m doing. I just want to be on stage, make people smile and inspired. It didn’t matter where I was. I never stop learning.”

She’s indeed learning a lot in her initial foray into theater, with veteran Missy Maramara as director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. AC shared how she prepared for her role: “I did my research right away. I watched the other shows, the clips. But once I got into rehearsal with Missy and everyone else, the whole story completely changed for me…We run the script every day, and I cry at different song.”

Angela likewise shared her thoughts on doing theater for the first time: “It’s very refreshing na marami kang matututunan (you learn a lot). Parang nagsisimula ako ulit (It’s like starting all over again). Introduce yourself sa first day… I feel a lot of pressure right now. ’Yung (That) pressure na ’yun for me is a good kind of pressure kasi bino-boost ko pa ang sarili ko to improve more, to be more professional, to keep up with these amazing people.”

For her part, Shanaia admitted the whole stage experience “wasn’t easy,” explaining, “It was very difficult kasi (because) I’m playing Marcy. She’s perfect, everything comes easy.” She then shared how she overcame the challenges: “I love working with Missy. She’s so helpful… And it’s nice to have a second family to help you out.”

That second family consisted of other cast members Diego Aranda and Luis Marcelo (alternating for the role of eager beaver boy scout Chip Tolentino), Elian Dominguez and Shaun Ocrisma (sharing the role of the awkward homeschooled student Leaf Coneybear), Becca Coates and Justine Narciso (both playing the precocious and civically-engaged Loggaine SchwartzandGrubennierre), Joshy Ramirez and Ron Balgos (alternates for the role of William Barfee, the oddball speller with a unique spelling technique).

The support system also includes the theater stalwarts playing the adult characters, namely Audie Gemora, Liesl Batucan-Del Rosario, Robbie Guevara, Nyoy Volante and Jordan Andrews, plus the entire production headed by The Sandbox Collective’s managing artistic director, Toff de Venecia.

For more show dates and additional information, visit and The Sandbox Collective’s social media pages.