BWW Review: 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE - Can You Spell Awesome?
The Georgetown Palace Theatre has a reputation for doing the big, classic musicals, those huge shows that are barely contained within the walls of the Springer Stage. In contrast 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is a modern show with an ensemble cast of just nine actors (a very small cast by Palace standards) it certainly overwhelms in entertainment value.
Premiering on Broadway, in 2005, the show, conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn, met with critical praise and both Drama Desk and Tony Awards. The effervescent musical takes six students through the overachieving adolescent's right of passage, the spelling bee. But this is no classroom competition, it's the finals, the winner will have not only scholarship money but a spot in the national spelling bee in Washington, DC. The stakes couldn't be higher for the contestants and the pressure is on; the stage is set for epic hilarity. In the hands of director Lannie Hilboldt the brilliant Palace cast sings, dances and spells their way into our hearts.
Ultimately 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE requires actors who can sing. Most musicals can skate by with singers and dancers who can act a bit. Not this show, it demands actors who can not only create a believable character but can hold it through difficult musical numbers. The Palace production is near perfection, every quirky character hits the mark and more. Wendy Zavaleta and Erik Freisinger are snappy and quick as Rona Lisa Peretti and Vice Principal Panch the presenters of the contest. David Sray pulls off an oddly charming juxtaposition of tough guy and sympathetic adult as Mitch Mahoney, the event's community service helper. Emma Thoeni as Marcy the uber-overachiever exudes energy and confidence as the girl who never loses. As last year's winner and presumed return champion, Buddy Novak lends his stellar presence to the character of Chip, he gives us the most outrageously funny song of the evening. Unbelievably talented Katya Welch lisps her way into our hearts as the under pressure youngster Logainne. I believe I could listen to Ms Welch sing all day so perfect are her vocals. William Gilbert gives us the 'magic foot' of William Barfee in all his weird glory. As Olive, Jordan Marett is just downright darling. But it's Daniel Ponce as Leaf, the likely autistic, accidental competitor, that absolutely stole my heart. His every gesture is perfection, the way he uses his hands is pure acting genius. As someone who has grandchildren on the Autism Spectrum, I saw a performance from Ponce that combined the delicate gestures and ticks of ASD in a most reverent and touching way. It is without a doubt one of the finest performances I've ever seen on the Palace stage. Director Lannie Hilboldt puts all the elements on stage in a delightful package from beginning to end. Faith Castaneda's lighting design is wonderfully fun, colorfully helping to shift scenes on a static set. Barb Jernigan's artistic, bright gymnasium set was the perfect setting for this jewel of a show. Costumes designed by Ellen Simms were perfectly suited to each character each making the actors look younger without being cutesy. Special shout out to Spot Operator Pandy Novak who nailed the spots in every number, it's so much harder to to than it looks folks.
All in all the show is brilliant, charming and fall out of your seat funny, but please do not be tempted to bring youngsters to this show. It is a performance intended for an adult only audience. The Palace Theatre has another hit on their hands in a season of hits. I will be waiting with great anticipation to see the upcoming Mary Poppins.
Please go and see this show, you will be so very glad you did!
June 1 - 24
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission