BWW Review: 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at The Ritz Theatre is Worth the Buzz
This past weekend, the actors, crew, and production staff at Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, NJ exchanged hugs and juice boxes as they sang goodbye to their run of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Like all of Ritz Theatre's productions, Spelling Bee was engaging, interactive and fun proving that this Bee was worth all of the buzz.
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by Rachel Sheinkin. The show centers on a fictional spelling bee set in a geographically ambiguous Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the Bee, run by three equally quirky grown-ups.
Ritz' production of Spelling Bee followed the tradition of having audience members come onstage to participate in the show. Before curtain, audience members had an opportunity to fill out a form to be included in the bee. From these applicants, the cast selected four audience members to go onstage and compete with the cast.
Before the show began, Producing Artistic Director of The Ritz, Bruce Curless, told all of the audience members who were invited to spell in the bee that they must ask two questions when given their word to spell: 1) a definition of the word, and 2) usage in a sentence. During one performance when an audience member (asked to spell "fandango") forgot to ask for the word's usage in a sentence, John Jackowski as Vince Principal Douglass Panch scolded them saying, "You know there are jokes there." This time the joke included the famous line from Bohemian Rhapsody, "Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango?"
Spelling Bee reflects the unfairness of life through the variance in the difficulty of the words and there is an inordinate amount of ridiculously challenging words that the cast is forced to spell. While some people (usually the audience members participating in the bee) get words like "cow", "crayon" and "Mexican", others got words that were sesquipedalian* like "capybara", "cystitis", and "phylactery". Showing that luck is the true sting of the bee. The characters complain about this unfairness in the song "Pandemonium" and as if the pressure of spelling words onstage in front of a crowd wasn't embarrassing or awkward enough for the audience participants, the cast made the audience volunteers dance around with them during the song.
As the play progresses, the words get harder, and the audience members participating in the bee are usually knocked out fairly quickly and given a juice box and a hug as the cast serenades them singing goodbye. However, nothing was more hilarious to me than when I saw the production and one audience member who was participating kept spelling the words, (even quite difficult words) correctly! And Jackowski playing Panch tried desperately to knock her off so that the play could progress.
Though the show is light-hearted and comical, my heart melted during the "I Love You Song" when Olive Ostrovsky, played by Jennie Krackstedt, is asked to spell chimerical (used to describe something that is wildly fanciful or imaginary) and mirroring the word's definition, she dreams about her parents attending the Bee and giving her the love and support she has craved. This song gave me chills and stood out as a more dramatic moment compared to the joyous ruckus that is the rest of the show.
Ritz' production of Spelling Bee was very fun and endearing (especially Michael Arigot as Leaf Coneybear). With a strong cast, and engaging directing by Ed "Rico" Santiago, The Ritz proves again that there's no buzzness like show buzzness.
For this production, The Ritz' gallery featured paintings by Haddon Heights artist Lawrence Jacobson that focused on light and shadow.
Up next to the Ritz Stage is The Fantasticks which runs June 1st -16th as a part of The Ritz' June Black Box Festival! To find more information about Ritz Theatre Company's productions and to purchase tickets, please visit ritztheatreco.org
*Sesquipedalian- very long words, or someone the overuses big words.