Theatre Mirror Review"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

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entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of Turtle Lane Playhouse's 31st season is "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". The show is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by Massachusetts native, William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin. The show centers around a fictional spelling bee set in Putnam Valley Middle School. While the title tells you the plot, the play is character driven. Six quirky adolescents compete in the Bee, run by three equally quirky adults. The children are in the throes of puberty, overseen by grown-ups who barely managed to escape childhood themselves. The kids learn winning isn't everything and that losing doesn't necessarily make you a loser. A unique aspect of this show is that four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters. Another amusing aspect is that the official announcer of the words, Mr. Panch supplies ridiculous usage-in-a-sentence examples when asked to use them in a sentence. The 2005 Broadway show was directed by James Lapine, was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two including best book of a musical. They created the unlikeliest of heroes: a quirky yet charming cast of outsiders for whom a spelling bee is the one place to where they can stand out and fit in at the same time. Director Dan Dowling picks the best performers for these 9 roles and supplies the topnotch dances that entertain the audience while musical director Howard Boles taught them the intricate melodies. A thunderous standing ovation greets the talented cast at the curtain call.

This is a high energy show from start to finish. Dan blocks the show wonderfully, having the audience spellers enter from the aisle of the theatre and has them interact with the cast members beautifully including some dance numbers. The important ingredient is audience interaction. The first cast member eliminated has to sell refreshments to the crowd. It is hilarious as this person throws candy into the audience. Laura Schrader built the school gymnasium set on the stage. Richard Itczak designed the comical costumes with topnotch lighting by Saulius Slezas. Howard conducts a six piece orchestra as well as plays the piano and taught the cast the harmonic blend of the songs. The musical numbers shine under his guidance. Dan's dances are splendid and include a kick line, the Charleston, a foot dance and a romantic child dance ala Fred and Ginger. The performers also play double roles and the three adults are excellently played in this show. Elizabeth Pasarilla is hilarious and shines as Rona Peretti, the # 1 realtor in Putnam County. She is a gorgeous brunette whose character is warm and sweet with the children but stern with Mr. Panch who has a crush on her. Elizabeth has a fabulous soprano voice. She sings the lead in "Spelling Bee Rules" and "My Favorite Moment of the Bee". Rona's favorite moment before the show is when all the children are filled with the joy of competition and how everyone has a chance to win the contest. She reveals that she won the Third Annual Spelling Bee years ago by spelling syzygy during the opening song "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" which sounds like "On the Twentieth Century. Elizabeth handles the comic and dramatic moments wonderfully. I last reviewed her as Susan Lawrence in "Big".Brad Walters is very comical as Mr. Panch. He is the vice-principal who has a crush on Rona. Panch returns to the contest after a five year absence after an ''incident'' at the 20th Bee and is getting better on high fiber diet and Jungian analysis. Panch is the announcer of the words and his funny definitions and usage in sentences are hilarious. Brad sings in several numbers including "Goodbye'' and in "Panemonium''. Tim McShea is terrific as Mitch Mahoney, an ex-convict who is now doing community service as the comfort counselor. Mitch who is dressed like a thug from New York hands out juice boxes to the losing students. Tim's splendid tenor voice soars in his song "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor'' and "Pandemonium" reprise which is a scat number while the cast dances to it. Tim's voice soars up to a high A. Elizabeth and Tim also play Olive's parents in the most poignant song in the show "I Love You Song" with Adena Walker. He will be playing Jimmy in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in June.

The performers who play the students are marvelous, too. Adena Walker plays Olive Ostrovsky, a newcomer to the Spelling Bee. Olive loves to study words and their definitions. She read the entire dictionary as a child while sitting on a toilet.Adena is a gorgeous brunette with a splendid soprano voice which soars in ''My Friend, My Dictionary''. She has many funny moments in the show but her show stopping number is the "I Love You Song'' where she imagines her parents are at the Bee with her. The fantastic three part harmony tugs at your heartstrings evoking tears from the audience and she also has a touching dance with William. Leaf Coneybear is excellently played by Brendan Colcord. Leaf has hippie parents and makes his own clothes. Brendan sings "I'm Not That Smart" because his family doesn't think he is bright. They imply that because Leaf is easily distracted. Brendan is hilarious as he goes into a spooky trance to spell the words and runs all over the stage. He also plays Carl, the overbearing gay father of Logainne. Leaf finally realizes he is smart after all and Brendan is very endearing in this role of Leaf. Kyle Carlson is topnotch as William Barfee, who was the Putnam County Spelling Bee finalist last year. He was eliminated because of an allergic reaction to peanuts. Kyle wears glasses and is dressed like a nerd as Barfee. William has a famous method which brings him to spelling glory even though he only has one working nostril and a touchy personality, continually correcting Panch on the pronunciation of his last name. Kyle sings "Magic Foot" where he spells the word out on the floor with his foot while doing a song and dance with the cast. I last reviewed Kyle as Brad in "Rocky Horror Show" earlier this season. He will be playing Trevor Greydon in "Millie" in June.

Sean Reardon is wonderful as Chip Tolentino who is a boy scout and champion of the 24th Annual Spelling Bee. He has the funniest song in the show called "Chip's Lament" which is also known as "My Unfortunate Erection". Sean makes this song extremely funny as he sings it was his penis not his brain that is at fault and blames Marigold Coneybear for it. His holding of the candy tray is hilarious. He has a topnotch voice and plays Jesus later in the show when he appears to Marcy. Logainne is wonderfully played by Krista Dietz. Her character has two gay men as fathers, is a bit of a neat freak and speaks with a lisp. Logainne becomes upset when her father, Carl deliberately spills coke on the stage floor to prevent William from using his magic foot. Krista sings "Woe is Me" which is about the problems she faces having two dads. Brendan and Tim McShea argue as the two gay dads during the song. Krista holds out the last note for a long time, earning her much applause. Joelle Kross is topnotch as Marcy Park. Marcy is the poster child for Over-Achievers. She marches to the mike, cracks her knuckles and knows the definition of the word before Panch can give it to her. Marcy wears a Catholic school girl's uniform, attends "Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows", speaks six languages and is not allowed to cry. Joelle sings "I Speak Six Languages" which tells of Marcy's prowess at everything. Joelle has a funny scene with Jesus who appears to her in a moment of crises. Not wanting to spoil the ending, I am not able to say anymore about the show except to run to the box office before they sell out. So for a marvelous contemporary musical, be sure to catch "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". It'll bring back many memories of spelling bees you competed in years ago.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (13 - 29 April)
@ 283 Melrose Street, AUBURNDALE MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide