The opening show of Community Players new season is "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." This musical features an eclectic group of adolescents who are played by adults, vying for the spelling bee championship of a lifetime. While disclosing hilarious and touching stories of their homelife, the tweens spell their way through a series of words. Six spellers enter but only one speller is left at the end. At least the losers get a juice box. With lyrics and music by William Finn, audience participation opportunities, "Spelling Bee" is a musical comedy to remember. Director Chris Margadonna picks the best 9 performers for these 17 roles and they are rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the show on a job very well done.
Chris supplies his cast topnotch blocking and keeps the show fast paced from start to finish, creating a high energy show the audience can savor and enjoy. Joseph Carvalho supplies the topnotch musical direction and plays the keyboards, too. The harmonies of this cast are wonderful. Chris' choreography includes a soft shoe, a romantic dance ala Fred and Ginger and a jazz dance to name a few. Four members of the audience are guest spellers in the show and one of the four is a TV or radio personality. The gymnasium set is by Victor Turenne and the fantastic mood lighting design is by Dean Palmer. His wife, Lisa Ziniti Palmer, a beautiful brunette, is Rona Lisa Peretti. Her character is warm and sweet with the children but stern with Mr. Panch who has a crush on her. Lisa has a marvelous soprano voice and leads them in "Spelling Bee Rules" and "My Favorite Moment of the Bee" which in her case is the moment before the bee when the children are filled with the joy of competition and everyone has a chance to win. Rona reveals she won the Third Annual Bee when she spelled syzygy correctly. She reveals this during the title song which sounds a lot like "On The Twentieth Century". Lisa handles this comic role superbly. Congratulations to both Lisa and Dean on their upcoming bundle of joy in the near future.
Frank O'Donnell is hilarious as Mr. Panch, the vice-principal who has a crush on Rona. He leads the crowd in the Pledge and Panch returns to the Bee after a five year absence for an "incident" at the 20th Bee. Panch is getting better on a high fiber diet and Jungian analysis. The character is the announcer of the words that need to be spelled. His funny definitions and usage of words in a sentence are laugh out loud moments. Todd Swavey is excellent as Mitch Mahoney, the ex-con who hands out juice boxes to the losing students. He ushers them offstage after they misspell the word. Todd's strong voice soars in "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" and in the reprise of "Pandemonium" which is a scat song with the cast dancing to it. He and Lisa also play Olive's parents and they sing the most poignant song in the show, "I Love You Song" with Aubrie.
Aubrie Bagdasarian wonderfully plays Olive, a newcomer to the Bee. Olive loves to study words and their definitions and as a child read the whole dictionary while sitting on a toilet. Aubrie is a pretty brunette whose soprano voice soars in "My Friend, the Dictionary." She has many comic moments in the show but it is the show stopping "I Love You Song" with terrific three part harmony. This is where she imagines her parents being at the Bee with her. It definitely tugs on your heartstrings and another touching moment is when Olive dances with Barfee with two other couples doing a romantic dance. Leaf Coneybear is wonderfully played by Joe Spirito. Leaf has hippie parents and makes his own clothes. Joe sings "I'm Not That Smart" because his family think he's easily distracted and isn't that bright. He wears a Lion King hat on his head. Leaf spells the word correctly when he goes into a spooky trance which leaves the audience laughing heartily. Joe also plays Carl, Logainne's overbearing, gay father who spills soda on the floor and coaches his daughter. Michael Campbell is marvelous as William Barfee. He wears glasses with a band-aid on the nose piece, looking like a nerd. Barfee was a finalist last year but was eliminated due to his allergic reaction to peanuts. He has a famous method to bring him to spelling glory even though he has only one working nostril and a touchy personality. Michael sings "Magic Foot" where he uses his foot to spell out the words. He sings and does a soft shoe to the song which ends in a kick-line with the cast.
Ryan Leverone is topnotch as Chip, a boy scout who won the 24th Spelling Bee. He sings the funniest song in the show called "Chip's Lament" which is also known as "My Unfortunate Erection." Ryan is a hoot as he flings candy at the audience and blames Marigold Coneybear for his situation. It was his penis not his brain. Logainne is excellently played by Nicole Cayer. Her character has two gay fathers, is a bit of a neat freak and speaks with a lisp. She becomes upset when her father, Carl deliberately spills soda to keep Barfee from using his magic foot. Nicole sings "Woe Is Me" about having to deal with her two fathers and the problems she encounters. Courtney Contente is wonderful as Marcy Park. Marcy is the poster child for "over achievers" as she stalks to the mike, knowing the definition before Panch gives it. Marcy wears a Catholic school uniform, goes to Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows, sleeps three hours a night, speaks six languages and twirls a flag. Courtney sings "I Speak Six Languages" as she twirls the flag, jumps rope, throws a basketball and does karate, showing her strong prowess at everything. She also has a funny scene with Jesus in a moment of crisis. I last reviewed Courtney as Hodel in "Fiddler on the Roof" last fall. Not wanting to spoil the ending, I can't reveal anymore details of the show. The last scene describes what happens to everyone in the future. So for a fun-filled exuberant musical, be sure to catch "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at Community Players.