BWW Reviews: F-U-N with Theatre UCF's 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE was BroadwayWorld Orlando's Summer Stages "Date Night" pick and this designation is spot on. So much more than a musical about a spelling bee, this production hits all its comedic marks and doesn't take itself too seriously.
The plot revolves around six champion spellers trying to win the Putnam County spelling bee and head to the national competition. Along the way, we learn about their lives and shortcomings. Think A CHORUS LINE, but funnier and cuter. Even though it is just a spelling bee, for these kids it is their entire life, at least for the moment.
Breaking down the fourth wall in theater always leads to a good time. Like the original Broadway production, before the show the audience is invited to submit their names for a chance to guest compete in the bee. When you volunteer, you do not know if you've been chosen until you are called onstage and assigned a "partner."
Being one of the lucky volunteers you are directed to sit in a spot and when your name is called you get up to spell. Like a real spelling bee you ask for the word's definition and for the word to be used in a sentence. Thanks to auto-correct and spell check functions, I am admittedly not a good speller. I spent my morning trying to figure out how to spell words like "phenomenal" and "dinosaur," but the words used were completely unpredictable. The audience of all ages were laughing out loud at the cast and the out-of-place volunteers.
Amanda Wansa Morgan plays Rona Peretti the spelling bee moderator and former Putnam County Spelling Bee champion. Morgan is a UCF MFA alumni who plays a very sympathetic and calming character. Ms Peretti along with Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Carlos Ashby, do a fine job moving the show along and blurring the line between scripted and improvised. Ashby takes after Steve Carell in his performance as he pronounces the words and the way he reacts.
Standout performance by Austin Palmer who plays William Barfee. Palmer is a giant on-stage, but personifies the nerdy, eccentric kid that has a magic foot to spell. Katherine Darby plays Olive Ostrovsky and nails the depressing ballad "The I Love You Song" with the help of harmonies from Amanda Morgan and Raleigh Mosely II. Mosely plays the comfort counselor, Mitch Mahoney, who is working the spelling bee as part of his parole. He has an incredible voice that soars during "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."
Then you have the crazy kids: Logan SchwartzandGrubeniere played by Leigh Green and Leaf Coneybear played by Tony Pracek. Each of these actors plays a character that is so unique and requires a large amount of energy. My spelling partner was Leaf Coneybear, who is this hysterical, random child. Pracek was all over the place on stage, keeping high energy throughout the show. Leigh Green manages a pronounced lisp during her entire performance as perfectionist competitor who daughter of two fathers.
In every class there are also the more normal children: Chip Tolentino played by Christopher Armellino and Marcy Park played by WIllow Draper. Chip is a boy scout and winner of last year's county spelling bee. His spelling career meets an unfortunate end due to a new physical manifestation. The young audience members may need some explanation on this one. Marcy Park is your typical overachiever, who learns that there is more to life than winning.
Theatre UCF's mainstage is the perfect venue for a production of this size. The set is built to look like a middle school gymnasium, but cosy enough to give a school assembly feel. During the summer, crowds tend to be light, so many good seats are still available. Shows begin at 7pm, so grab your date and go. Even non-musical theater fans will find the content funny and easily understandable.
Directed by Be Boyd, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE runs at Theatre UCF July 10 - July 20 and August 21 - 24. While you're there be sure to take your #UCFSpellfie and do not be afraid to volunteer to spell. For tickets and more information visit http://theatre.cah.ucf.edu/events.php?id=2499.
Photo credit: TheatreUCF