BWW Review: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at ACT Of Connecticut
On Thursday, June 6, I had the pleasure of seeing yet another first rate show at ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield, CT. THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is a musical comedy with book by Rachel Sheinkin and score by William Finn. Under the direction of Michelle Tattenbaum, this show is highly entertaining.
Right from the moment the audience sees the stage, we know that we are seeing something very special in that even the stage floor is part of the set. Off-hand, I don't recall ever seeing another play, not even on Broadway, in which the stage floor itself was actually part of the set. Looking like a gymnasium floor, it complements the rest of the set which is designed to resemble a gymnasium, including windows, doors, wall pads, championship banners on the walls, and even the climbing rope coming down from the ceiling. Scenic Designer Jack Mehler has truly brought an authentic feel to the set.
Hidden backstage, the talented live five part orchestra, led by Katya Stanislavskaya enhances the moods and feels of the show, both during the actual songs, and with the background instrumentation that comes in just at the right times.
"The I Love You Song," is the most emotionally moving song and best from a musical perspective. The song reflects the fantasy of a young girl whose parents, though both alive, are not there for her, not making her enough of a priority in their lives, not merely from her perspective, but in factual reality. In the song, she is fantasizing about them being loving towards her, in a manner common to a traditional loving family. The song reflects the reality of an ever growing number of children's thoughts in a world that is growing ever hostile to traditional family life, with the children suffering the deepest adverse impact of the increasing cultural, societal, and media impact of cultures and worldviews that are hostile towards traditional loving families. This song is beautifully and authentically performed by Morgan Billings Smith, Amy Hutchins, and Ryan Williams.
A fascinating special sound and lighting effect at one point during the show puts everything into slow motion in a highly convincing manner, the cast moving and speaking in accordance with this effect to help make it work so flawlessly.
The cast is absolutely magnificent, some playing additional roles beyond their main role. Much of the humor comes from the hosts/referees of the spelling bee, who are brilliantly played by Amy Hutchins and John C. Baker. Ryan Williams is excellent as Mitch Mahoney, a character who is on parole and to complete his community service requirements is forced to comfort the losers of the spelling bee, while escorting them out of the gym. Graham Baker commands the stage and steals the show in his role of Leaf Coneybear , an eccentric contestant whose every line is amusing, with Graham Baker providing the mannerisms and delivery that maximize the quality of those lines. Colin Miyamoto, Phil Sloves, Morgan Billings Smith, Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, and Sumi Yu all bring their strong talents to the stage as the other contestants. Three other contestants are audience members who are called on stage, as the fourth wall is broken. All three did well.
The show accurately depicts the serious misconception that so many youths have that the love their parents have for them is merit based, and that academic achievement is a great way to earn it.
For mature audiences, I highly recommend THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, which is scheduled to continue to run at ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield, CT., through June 23, 2019. For times and tickets, please go to Tickets. Not to cheat, but here is an inside tip. If you happen to be one of the people called up on stage, note the spelling of the following words: jihad, cow, Mexican, catterjune, xerophthalmiology.