As Art Linkletter told previous generations of television viewers, kids say the darndest things.

Alan Bailey knows the feeling. "Ages 9 to 12, that's my favorite age of kids to be around," he said. Which is good, because that's about the age of the "kids" in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the musical play Bailey is directing at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro which opens preview performances Friday, May 4 and officially opens May 12.

"It’s a very affectionate, very heart-warming look at kids who are trying to achieve, trying to fit in, and trying to find their place in the world," said Bailey. "It is screamingly funny."

Funny, yes, but not in a way that picks on the kids who are vying to be spelling champs.

"Every one of these kids is different, what we might call ‘quirky,’" Bailey said. "But over the course of the play, you come to look past how they’re ‘different,’ and you come to realize how we’re all like each other. The play celebrates people’s quirkiness."

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The kids in the spelling bee are played by adult actors. That is not as easy as it might seem.

"A lot of it is letting your guard down," Bailey said. "It’s easier for actors at the Commonweal. They have worked together before. They walk into the rehearsal room knowing they can let their guard down and trust each other."

Lizzy Andretta, Abbie Cathcart, Elizabeth Dunn, Philip Muehe, Brandt Roberts, and Brandon Cayetano will play the kids. The adults in the room will be played by Commonweal regulars Hal Cropp and Eric Lee, and Minneapolis actress Betti Battocletti. In addition, four people from the audience will be invited to participate in the play as contestants.

As for Bailey, a freelance writer and director based in Los Angeles, this is his 12th show in 20 years at the Commonweal. He most recently directed "Souvenir" in 2016.

"It’s been great to be able to return here over the years and watch the company grow," he said. "It’s absolutely amazing all the things they’ve been able to accomplish."

What: "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

When: May 12 through Sept. 24. Preview performances are Friday through May 11.

Where: Commonweal Theatre, 208 Parkway Ave. N, Lanesboro

Tickets: $35 adults, $15 students; 800-657-7025 and