BWW Review: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE presented by The Charles Seller Foundation
For its 67th year, The Charles Seller Foundation Talent Time Players presented 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' on Thursday night August 3, 2017. The production was directed by Tom Russo, produced by Abby Maichuck-Miles and choreographed by Julia Aiello and Toniann Seals. The Charles Seller Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Bloomfield, New Jersey, named after a resident of the town, Charles Seller, who was in a train accident in 1950. To help with the cost of medical bills, Seller's friends put on a variety show which they called 'Talent Time.' The tradition has continued ever since then, presenting musicals that have been either on or off Broadway while raising money for a family who has a child in need.
This year, the show is benefiting 21 month old Andrew Conforti of Bergen County who was diagnosed with Langerhan's Cell Histiocytosis (LCH).
The 'Bee' is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss. The story follows six eccentric adolescents of Putnam Valley Middle School who are competing to win the trophy as well as the $200 prize. 'Bee' opened off Broadway in 2005 and made its way on Broadway in that same year. That cast included 'Modern Family's' Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
'Spelling Bee' is a cute, fun show that guarantees laughs, but also tugs at your heart. The Charles Seller Foundation's production presented a too good to be true cast. Each actor transformed into a child at the 'Spelling Bee' so much that the audience quickly forgot that they are really grown adults. We were immediately brought into their world, becoming members of the Spelling Bee's audience, clapping when they spelled a word correctly, and letting out a collective 'Aww' when they didn't. Audience members can sign up before the show to get the chance to be brought up onstage to become a speller, which adds to the fun and laughs.
Soula Garcia portrayed the lovable Olive Ostrovsky. When Garcia sang 'The I Love You Song' revealing her unsettling home life, the audience was completely silent, hanging on to her every word, evoking an emotional reaction from all of us, hearts melting and tears flowing... A true talent!
William Barfee was played by Frankie Perez who did an amazing job at embodying the contestant who had a 'know it all attitude.' Perez had us laughing at the way he presented the character in both voice and movement. His voice was delightful and his acting was impeccable.
Gemma Eshelman portrays the over achiever, Marcy Park who excels at everything in life. Singing the song 'I Speak Six Languages' we learn that Marcy Park excels at everything from sports to hula hooping, to painting and much more, but she isn't really having fun doing any of it. Eshelman's attitude as Park had us laughing but also had us feeling sad for her. Her performance was outstanding.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, an adorable pig tailed, energetic contestant who's Dads push her to win is played by Amber Smith. Smith's fake lisp, which she did a great job of never breaking from it, quirkiness and beautiful singing voice was the perfect combination for her character.
Niko Lento portrays the over energetic, super hero dressed, helmet wearing Leaf Coneybear. Lento had the audience in stitches anytime he spoke or sang and was impressive in this role.
Jaquel Spivey portrayed contestant Chip Tolentino, a Boy Scout, who's exit from the 'Bee' was both embarrassing and hilarious. Spivey has a knack for acting and a powerful voice!
The 'Bee' was run by 3 school officials, Rona Lisa Perretti, a former 'Bee' champion, Vice Principal Douglas Panchand Comfort Counselor Trish Mahoneywho is serving community service. The Foundation's President, Courtney Charastaris portrayed the excited and driven Perretti. Charastaris' voice was both beautiful and captivating. Mark Schellhorn had the audience laughing as the Vice Principal on the verge of another breakdown.
When a contestant was out of the running, the back curtain would open up and a choir appeared, beautifully singing a 'Goodbye Song.' The participant was then escorted offstage by Kat Tineo, Trish Mahoney the 'Comfort Counselor,' who gave them a juice box, encouraging words of tough love and a hug. Tineo's portrayal of Trish Mahoney was comical and almost show stopping with her amazing powerhouse voice.
Vice President, Kaitlyn Gandolfi explained how the foundation finds a family each year, 'Usually it's by word of mouth. This year we ended up knowing somebody who knew the family... then I found Andrew's GoFundMe Page and I was able to reach out and email his Mom." Gandolfi also spoke on the hardwork that goes into the shows each year through the foundation, 'We're all volunteer based, people volunteer their time, no one gets paid, the cast or the executive board.' The foundation's President Courtney Charatsaris, who portrays Rona Lisa Perretti in 'Bee,' added 'We try to solicit locally to get donations. A lot of the finances for the concessions are provided by us and the cast members, we all try to give as much as we can plus with the help of the community so that the family can get as much as possible.'
'It's the Executive Board's job to select a Producer. We chose Abby Maichuk-Miles as Producer because she has experience as a professional director, she's been a professional producer, stage manager, she wears a lot of hats. She's done it numerous times, not only professionally, but also for The Charles Seller Foundation. Her husband (Jim Miles) actually was a member of the Foundation years ago and has directed for us as well, so Abby was a personal fit because she has a personal connection as well as a professional connection.
When speaking to the Producer, Abby Maichuk-Miles, she said 'It was very crazy... Trying to find the production team and trying to find the best...trying to bring new people in, getting the spaces organized and publicity out... it was very chaotic.'
The cast also includes Emma Drew Hinz, Jim Miles, Pete Bechmann, Linzee Duncan, Tristan Quinonez, Emmanuel Odekunle, Ashley Keddell, Richard Mogollon, Victoria Alameda, Bearenne Julian, Noa Avital, Maxwell Addae, Nicolette Cetrulo and Tarajee Karriem.
The hardworking crew is comprised of Tyler Vanterpool as Assitant Director, James J. Miles as Directing Consultant, Maria Rivas as Production Stage Manager, Lighting Design and Properties, Kaitlyn Gandolfi and Tarajee Karriem as Costumers, Ralph V. Turano as Graphic Designer.
The Orchestra consisted of Marc Pannullo as conductor, Leigh Weinman on keyboard 1, James Chwaylk on the synthesizer, Skyler Fortgang on percussion and Gabriela Ferreira on reed.
The show runs for 4 more performances; August 5, 10, 11, 12 at 8:00 pm at Bloomfield High School. 160 Broad Street Bloomfield New Jersey 07003.
To purchase tickets online, visit www.csfspellingbee.brownpapertickets.com.
General admission is $15.00, Senior/Student Admission is $12.00.
For more information you can visit their website www.TheCharlesSellerFoundation.org
They also have a Facebook Page and Twitter: @TalentTime_CSF or you can contact the foundation at TheCharlesSellerFoundation@gmail.com.
Please visit Andrew's GoFundMe Page at https://www.gofundme.com/38bm33c