by Beki Pineda
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE – Book by Rachel Sheinkin; Music and Lyrics by William Finn; Directed by Tanner Kelly. Produced by Stage Door Theatre (25797 Conifer Road, Conifer) through July 28. Tickets available at 303-838-0809 or StageDoorTheatre.org.
The premise is simple: Six students are competing in a spelling bee to win a place in the National Bee. Simple, right?! But each of the six have their own special reason for wanting to win and their own special way of doing it. Add in a Vice Principal as the reader of the words; a fellow teacher as a Judge who just happens to be a former winner; and a comfort counselor who is finishing his community service assignment by working at the spelling bee. The final random members of the cast are four audience members recruited as additional spellers. I must confess to being one of the targeted audience members. While I did pretty good as a speller, “demicastor” did me in. Factor in music and knee-slapping humor and you have a winning theatre evening.
We get a mix of words spelling correctly and a few incorrect – usually from the unprepared adult members of the “cast” – as well as music that explains the kid’s motivations, trepidation, and family history. All VERY entertaining – but, honest to Pete, one of the funniest bits in the show are the definitions of the spelling words given by Vice Principal Panch and the sentences he uses to explain the meanings. Kevin Eksterowicz as Panch gets to spout off some of the funniest one-liners you’ve ever heard. His deadpan delivery and feeble attempts at accents made the sentences even funnier. Then his character’s soft side is revealed in an unexpected act of kindness at the end of the evening.
Lindsey Kinney as Miss Peretti, his fellow judge at the Bee, has great throwaway lines that she seems to be making up on the spot. Her real life husband Adam plays the Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney who hands out hugs and juice boxes to the – I don’t want to say losers – unfortunate contenders who misspell their words. All three “adult” performers have beautiful voices that are highlighted in solo numbers and in the duet “The I Love You Song” when Adam and Lindsey take the roles of Olive’s absent parents.
Each of the students are outstanding performers as well and embrace their “tween-ness” with gusto. Sam Meyer is Chip with a problem that proves distracting from his spelling efforts. Bella Hathorne becomes Logainne Schwartz-and-Grubenieer who has two very competitive Dads that have passed their need to win on to her. Tiffany Gruman is Marcy Park who speaks six languages and is all business. Josh Holcomb reveals the “Magic Foot” of his character William Morse Barfee (pronounced Bar-Fay). He spells out each word with his foot on the floor before he speaks it. Leaf Coneybear who has been drafted to compete as the third runner-up in his local contest. Brendan Jarrett is a unique individual who makes his own clothes and admits he is “not that smart.” Sweet Nora Landy plays the last contestant Olive Ostrovsky, a lonely girl with an absent father and a mother in an ashram. As you can tell, this divergent cast of characters has the potential for funny situations and sweet moments.
Director Tanner Kelly’s experience with the show allows him to prepare each cast member for whatever might happen on stage and to find their inner child. Choreographer Tracy Doty found rambunctious dance steps that illustrated the energy and enthusiasm of the cast.The four piece band led by Mary Dailey followed the ever-changing dynamics of the show with ease, providing a solid backbeat for the music. The Lighting Designer Tom Junker has the loser spellers going “toward the light” as they leave the stage. The mixture of school uniforms and teen clothing were authentically put together by Costumer Cole Mitchell.
For another delightful theatre evening in the cool mountains, think about driving down to Conifer for dinner and a show. This is an adult script use that as an excuse to get a sitter for the kids and have a date night. How do you spell “entertainment”?
A WOW factor of 8!