Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Janine de Souza

BEE Yourself

Reviewed by Janine de Souza

Back in the 1980’s, Robert Flughum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was an instant hit! It was a return to the precious and lifelong lessons of one’s first classroom experience, Kindergarten. Who doesn’t embrace the lesson “Don’t hit each other!” unless you like the taste of warm gruel and relish some quiet time at the local county jail? Simple lessons. Life lessons. The NextDoor Center for the Arts in Winchester takes you back to those godforsaken days with their hilarious spin of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (now playing through October 22).

LESSON #1: “DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS (TATOOED) COVER” Tough guy, Mitch Mahoney played convincingly by Mike Levesque, is doing his time and INvoluntary community service at the Putnam Elementary School. Armed with a hardened exterior and ultimately, soft heart, Mitch lives up to his assignment of “Comfort Counselor.” It’s never too late to change.

LESSON #2: “IT’S OKAY TO COME IN SECOND” – Olive Ostrovsky, (Sarajane Mullins) a shy introvert, with only the dictionary as her best friend, realizes that despite Coach Lombardi’s famous words…“Winning ISN’T everything.” Mullins milks her character’s insecurities to the hilt and adds to the emotional drama of the show. Always try your best, even if you come in second, third, or even last.

LESSON #3: “YOU LEARN THAT YOUR PARENTS DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT’S BEST OR PLAY FAIR” – Logiine Shwartzangruenierre (Alaina Fragoso), decked out in pigtails and a strong lisp, discovers to her horror that her “God-like” parents do not always know what to do and sometimes even do the wrong thing. Fragoso puts her ethical struggle to good acting use and soon has the audience rooting for her. Trust your gut and do the right thing.

LESSON #4: “SOMETHINGS YOU DON’T KNOW UNTIL YOU GROW UP” – Chip Tolentino (Matthew Phillips) is an immature boy scout that learns about the birds and the BEE the hard way. After a childish tantrum resembling a rabid 3 year old, he is eliminated and relegated to selling cheap candy while the others continue on in the competition. Later on, Chip experiences some of the carnal delights of growing up. Phillips wears his age well so that it’s easy to believe that he just got another scout badge last week. With age comes wisdom.

LESSON #5: “YOU CAN’T LIVE IN THE PAST.” – Rona Liza Peretti (Kendra Alati) steals the show with her hilarious portrayal of a grown woman lost in the glory days of her first win at the BEE. Caressing the trophy like an ex-lover, Alati sashays across the stage and treats the audience to running witty commentary. Her impromptu banter with the audience volunteer “spellers” and timing only add to the comedic laughs. But ultimately, even if you have ‘80s big hair, you need to let go.

LESSON #6: “YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE UP TO YOUR LABEL.” Armed with a blanket cape and helmet, Coney Bear (Keil Coit) realizes that he is indeed worthy of competing in the BEE. He is there on his own merit, although unfairly labeled as “dumb” by his parents for his entire life. Coit taps his inner child and you feel yours with all of his youthful antics. He makes you want to blow bubbles and fly a kite again. In the end, you are always a lot smarter than you think.

LESSON #7: “IT’S BETTER TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE” – Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Kendall Hodder) is an unwilling substitute at the BEE. He is mean, impatient, and actually DOESN’T like children at all. In a gesture of generosity, he opens his wallet and his heart. You always get more than what you receive.

LESSON #8: “IT’S OKAY TO FAIL.” Overachieving, Type A to the eenth degree, Marcy Park (Mimi Do) discovers that you don’t always have to get 100% and that perfection is a moving target. It’s okay to NOT do well. Besides acting, singing, and dancing, Mimi Do also plays virtuoso violin just like her character. A coincidence? I think not!

LESSON #9: “THE MAGIC IS ALREADY IN YOU” - William Barfee (Ronny Pompeo) finds that he doesn’t need his “Magic Foot” to win. The magic was always inside him like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ. She had a foot fetish too! Don’t use a crutch; use your inner confidence to be a winner.

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is directed by James Tallach. Tallach’s comedic fingerprints litter the stage and he taps into the child in all of us. Production Designer, Brian Milauskas, creates a gymnasium set that looks so real you want to shoot a few hoops. All of this, along with superb casting, makes this BEE fly.

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is now playing from October 7 – 22.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (7 - 22 October)
@ 40 Cross Street, WINCHESTER MA

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