BWW Review: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Entertains at Baldwinsville Theatre Guild
The Baldwinsville Theatre Guild is now entertaining audiences in Baldwinsville, New York with the witty and entertaining musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Colin Keating, Artistic Director of The Baldwinsville Theater Guild and director of this musical along with his stellar cast has brought the poignant and hysterical musical to life with great heart, skill, and powerhouse performances.
With music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin the show itself is just pure fun with its quirky group of adolescents competing to win the coveted trophy at the spelling bee. The musical is a winner of the Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Book. The story follows an awkward group of spellers, each with their own heart-breaking backstory. The characters that are so endearingly flawed, each have their own motivation for participating in the competition.
The small cast and simple set by Henry Wilson featuring bleachers, a table for the judges, and microphone is perfect for this theater located in the education center of a church. You literally feel like you are in a school auditorium or gymnatorium.
With it being a show that relies on audience involvement, no show will ever be the same. This adds to the uniqueness of the production. This part of the show allows the cast to showcase their improvisational skills as they lead some volunteer audience members/spellers in the choreography and antics. This is especially evident in the number "Pandemonium" as the spellers cause quite the ruckus on stage. This hysterical number was a favorite.
Musical Director Colin Keating and the live orchestra bring the toe-tapping and purely fun music to life with great energy and passion. Director Keating's cast and his smart production choice makes this one of the best community theater productions I have had the pleasure of seeing in a long time.
Christy Ashby portrays former Bee Champion and Moderator Rona Lisa Peretti who opens the show by preparing for the competition. She has a flashback to the year she won with the correct spelling of the word "syzygy." Ashby's spunk, charm, and passion sets the tone beautifully for the show's opening. Then off the show goes with the first of many memorable numbers, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Ashby's performance throughout the show is consistent, comedic, and showcases some very expressive and lovely vocals.
Josh Mele plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, the official word pronouncer at The Bee. Panch is returning after a five-year hiatus and he assures all that he is now "in a better place." Mele's comedic skills are top notch in the role.
Mitch Mahoney, played by Cameron Walker, is the Comfort Counselor who is there to offer a juice box and a hug as he escorts each loser offstage. Walker leads the "Goodbye" song that is sung multiple times throughout the show with great humor and various levels of heartache. Walker steals the spotlight with his rendition of "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."
Then there is the rest of cast that portrays the unique group of spellers. This ensemble show allows each actor to have their own shining moment.
Ryan Sparkes portrays Chip Tolentino, the previous year's winner at The Bee. Ironically, Chip is eliminated early due to a distraction. Sparkes then opens Act II with the hilarious number "Chip's Lament" that will without a doubt have you bursting with laughter.
Powerhouse actress Ceara Windhausen brings down the house with her portrayal of Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere (Schwartzy). Talk about a stellar character actress; the facial expressions, the passion, the consistency, it is perfection. Windhausen brings the character, speech impediment and all, to life beautifully while never losing a single word or lyric. Schwartzy is faced with enormous pressure from her Dads to win and the audience hears about it in the favorite number "Woe is Me."
Kilian Crowley plays the hilarious and incredibly likeable Leaf Coneybear. The cape and puppet allow for the character to often standout in the group. Coneybear receives no support from his family and often gets mocked, therefore he lacks self-esteem. Crowley gives an incredible performance of "I'm Not That Smart." Crowley effortlessly transforms himself into Coneybear and he dazzles every moment on stage - a true standout.
Dan Williams as William Barfee, who is often frustrated throughout the show because his last named is constantly pronounced wrong, is hilarious. He has a "magic foot" that gives him the ability to spell a word with no problem. Barfee first seems to start off as a bully but later we see a more caring character. Williams charms in the musical number "Magic Foot" with the fun choreography and the over the top acting.
Natasia White portrays Marcy Park, the girl that is just good at everything. She is so over being perfect. White sings Marcy's number "I Speak Six Languages" while showcasing some various talents onstage.
Jennifer Pearson portrays Olive Ostrovsky, a very soft spoken and timid girl who is unfortunately often alone. Her father is a workaholic and her mother is away in another country. Pearson captures Olive's loneliness and longing for friendship perfectly with her expressive vocals. It especially resonates as she sings the sweet and longing number "My Friend, The Dictionary." The "I Love You Song" is a standout number for Pearson as Olive is imagining having her parents there with her. Christy Ashby portrays Olive's mother and Cameron Walker steps in as Olive's father. The trio blend beautifully as they sing the emotional number. Pearson's smooth and effortless vocals light up the stage.
There is no weak link in this ensemble show and each actor certainly makes the most of their time in the spotlight. The production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Baldwinsville Theatre Guild will have you rolling with laughter as you watch this stellar cast capture these unique characters. This production, under the stellar direction of Colin Keating, is a definite must see.
Running time: Approximately two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Guidance: 13 and older due to language, mature topics, and adult humor.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs from January 18, 2019 through February 2, 2019 at The Baldwinsville Theatre Guild at The Presbyterian Education Center located at 64 Oswego Street, Baldwinsville, NY. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions click here.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of AB Photography (Amelia Beamish)