BWW Reviews: CATCO's 'Bee' Spells Out Recipe for Heartwarming Humor
You can almost smell the scent of misfit adolescence in the air down at the Vern Riffe Center, and as you take your seat surrounded by Set Designer Michael S. Brewer's all-too-realistic high school gymnasium stage, you can't help but feel the awkwardness and anxiety of your earlier years come flooding back. Let's face it, even if you were the Homecoming Queen, the Class President, or the star athlete, there were certainly more than a few moments where you felt completely out of place- as if your entire life's existence was wrapped up in some now absurdly trivial, but then earth shattering moment, much like "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" contestants. They gloriously and in grossly over-exaggerated form, epitomize every flavor of self-conscious young adult to be found in any school then or now- the former Bee Champion and Boy Scout, Chip Tolentino (James Sargent), the lisping civil right's advocate with two dads, Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre (Emily Turner), the cape and helmet-wearing quirky kid prone to sudden spelling outbursts of genius and hair pulling, ear flapping tics, Leaf Coneybear (Patrick Walters), the science geek with an overabundance of mucous and a "Magic Foot", William Barfee (Japhael Bondurant), the uniform clad, Catholic school overachiever, Marcy Park (Nicolette Montana), and the shy wallflower, overlooked by everyone, including her own parents, Olive Ostrovsky (Elisabeth Zimmerman). Director Steven Anderson has done a marvelous job in casting the ensemble, as while each persona is wildly unique, they magically harmonize in universal desire to be validated, word by word, so seamlessly that you can't help but champion each and every one in their own right.
While adults playing children can oft come across as completely over-acted and annoying, this cast gets it delightfully correct. Add to that Musical Direction by Matt Clemens, (live backstage band members Seth Daily (percussion), Mary Featherston (cello), Ken Griffith (conductor/keyboard), Brian Lang (woodwind), and Dean Marcellana (keyboard) are wonderful as well) and performers who each deliver lovely solo numbers, and the CATCO version of the frequently attempted production stands out as really just exceptionally well done throughout. Kudos to Sound Designer, Brian Kallaher and Sound Board Operator, Keya Myers-Alkire for delivering one of the most perfectly balanced ensemble shows with a live band that I've heard.
The "kids" are joined on stage by former Bee champion turned moderator, Rona Lisa Peretti (Krista Lively-Stauffer), recently returned from "hiatus" Vice Principal, Douglas Panch (Ralph E. Scott), and a "comfort counselor" performing his parole-required community service by handing out juice boxes as consolation prizes, Mitch Mahoney (Geoffrey Martin). Additionally, four audience members are included as participants in the Bee on stage as well, with hilarious results. As each character reveals a bit more about themselves during the Bee with musical numbers like Leaf's "I'm Not That Smart", Barfee's "Magic Foot", and Marcy's "I Speak Six Languages", it's easy to alternate frequently between laughter and heartbreak, reliving adolescence in all of its "glory" at each turn. The script is delightfully funny, made more so by the hysterical ad-libbing of word definitions and usages done by Scott as Vice Principal Pauch, and the whole storyline is so blatantly tongue-in-cheek that it proves entirely heartwarming rather than offensively over-caricatured. Without a doubt, CATCO's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" earns an "A+", and gets this fantastically fun show R-I-G-H-T.
CATCO presents "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" through August 18 at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm; Wed at 11 am. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat.; $11 on Wed. For additional information, go to: http://www.catco.org/
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Generation Photography