PLAY REVIEW: Bee” Funny: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee brought big laughs
Sunday, January 20, 2008

By Joe Walker
The New Citizens Press

You learn something new everyday. On Jan 8th while watching the presentation “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at The Wharton Center, I learned theater could be simultaneously entertaining and educational. I chuckled at times, laughed terribly hard at others, all while learning several new terms. As I left Wharton upon the plays conclusion I realized my vocabulary - filled with explicit and non-explicit words - was still not extensive enough to properly describe how entertaining “Spelling Bee” had been. So, I'll just say it was #@&$% excellent! There.

“Spelling Bee” got off to unique start before I actually knew it was show time. I was peering at the stage set, which resembled a middle school gymnasium - complete with bleachers, gaudy double doors and basketball hoop, when I noticed to my far left a lady in a green two-piece business suit talking with the audience while brandishing a trophy. Soon she casually took the stage and introduced herself as Rona Lisa Peretti (played by Roberta Duchak), the #1 Realtor in Putnam County, a former Putnam Spelling Bee Champion, and returning moderator. This began the most interactive theatrical engagement I'd ever witnessed.

Of the play's 10 competitors, characters Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Dana Steingold), Chip Tolentino (Justin Keyes), William Barfee (Eric Roediger), Leaf Coneybear (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), and Olive Ostrovsky (Vanessa Ray) all entered from the audience. The other four were actual audience members, each subjected to hilarious wisecracks from Bee judges Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Jame Kall). Ex-con-turned-Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahony (Kevin Kirkwood) rounds out the cast. Each cast member gave outstanding, and believable, performances, with the best coming from Kall's stuffy, often easily-annoyed-but-tolerant Panch. Very Principal-esque.

“Spelling Bee” also gave light to how family, peer pressure and hormones affects preteens. While humorous throughout it was also thought provoking and sometimes saddening. Lonely only child Olive, for example, wanted to win the Bee to impress her parents. Neither was present to watch her attempt.

The musical numbers were emotion-filled too, perfecting fitting the distinctive style of this production. My favorite being a rowdy number titled “Pandemonium”. Other highlights include the actors going into fast forward and super slow motion, and an eliminated competitor returning as a snack vendor.


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