Popular movies like “Spellbound” and “Akeelah and the Bee” are helping boost national interest in spelling bees. Now, a musical on the subject is making its Iowa stage debut. Chicago native Roberta Duchak is one of the stars of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Duchak, who says she’s an excellent speller in real life, plays Rona Lisa Peretti, the hostess of the bee. “She’s actually a former champion of the spelling bee,” Duchak says, “and this is her 9th consecutive year of hosting the bee and she’s very, very proud of that.” The storyline of the Tony Award-winning musical comedy follows six young competitors in the bee, overseen by several equally-obsessive adults.

Duchak has played all sorts of roles in her acting career, in shows ranging from “Cats” to “Romeo and Juliet” to “The Rocky Horror Show,” but she says “Spelling Bee” offers something she found in none of the others.

“We get to improv because of the different volunteers we have on stage every night. It changes the show dramatically. This is definitely one of my favorites because it isn’t the same show eight shows a week.” She says if there’s a moral to the show, it’s that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

The show runs Tuesday through Sunday.

Audio: Radio Iowa’s Matt Kelley reports. :36 MP3