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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.

From This Author - Sean Fallon

Review: CLUE at Castle Craig Players
July 31, 2022

The Castle Craig Players have done it, with a first-rate cast, in Meriden, CT! On Saturday, July 30th, I had the pleasure of seeing a show that I had been looking forward to ever since it was first announced. As someone who has been a fan of the board game Clue since 1985, Clue the movie since 1986, and even Clue the VCR game, several years later, I was very excited to see CLUE, the play, as performed by the Castle Craig Players at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT. The play is by Sandy Rustin, Hunter Foster, and Eric Price, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn. Under the wonderful direction of Ian Galligan, the Castle Craig Players have successfully put on yet another phenomenal production that combines comedy with murder mystery!

Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Musicals At Richter
July 24, 2022

On Saturday, July 23rd, I had the pleasure of seeing a truly first-rate production, a phenomenal performance of one of the greatest musicals ever written!  Musicals at Richter, in Danbury, continues with their legacy of providing audiences what we yearn for in live theater, the right shows with the right cast.  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the perfect show to see outdoors on this lovely July night. Under the excellent direction of Jessica Smith, musical direction of Adam Snyder, and choreography of Lindsay Miller, this stellar cast truly made the hills come alive, on this new stage featuring a stunning set designed by John McMahon, complete with moveable pieces. The cast members radiate positive energy from the stage, truly entertaining the audience, and having fun playing their roles!

Review: THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL at Fairfield Center Stage
June 18, 2022

I was fascinated from the moment I first heard that Fairfield Center Stage was going to perform a musical called THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, as I did not previously know that such a musical existed.  What I knew, however, is that if it is being put on by Fairfield Center Stage, it is going to be a phenomenal production!   On Friday, June 17th, I had the pleasure of experiencing Fairfield Center Stage’s continued commitment to providing excellent theater that goes that extra mile, when I saw THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL on opening night, at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, CT.   Director Joel Fenster, musical director Benjamin Doyle, choreographer Lindsay Johnson, artistic director Christy McIntosh-Newsom, and Executive Producer Eli Newsom all combine their talents with the rest of the crew and this stellar cast to give the audience yet another first-rate performance!

BWW Review: PETER AND THE STAR CATCHER at Ridgefield Theater Barn
June 4, 2022

On Friday, June 3, I had the pleasure of seeing PETER AND THE STAR CATCHER at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, CT.  This play with music was written by Rick Elise.  This stellar cast’s talents come alive under the first-rate team of director Katherine Ray, assistant director Rae Janeil Sutherland and choreographer Sharon Houk.   It is not a musical in the traditional sense, but the use of song is incorporated throughout, resembling a musical in certain parts.  It is obvious that these cast members are having a wonderful time up on stage, bringing positive energy that radiates throughout the audience, with excellent stage chemistry between the cast. 

May 14, 2022

On Friday, May 13th, I saw a play I was previously not familiar with.  VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE was performed by the Castle Craig Players at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT.  This is a modern (about ten years ago) play written by controversial playwright Christopher Durang.  The genres encompassed include dark drama, dark comedy, and even a political rant.  The audience reactions throughout the show suggest that they truly enjoyed the show.  While the show certainly has comedic elements, I feel that this show can be best appreciated if audience members come to the show expecting to see what is more of a very dark and twisted drama than a comedy, as I feel that drama is the more dominant genre in this show.