Performing through October 3rd

By: Oct. 02, 2021
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This charming and hilarious show was just what my exhausted heart needed. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, how lovely it is to participate in live theater again. This one act show provides laughter and heart and is worth seeing during its short run.

The name of the show gives away the plot, and the actors really bring the show to life. As school-aged children, each contestant has a unique backstory that led them to the Bee. Who will win? Can I even spell these words? The audience is included in the action and a few audience members get called to the stage to participate in the Bee. I am almost certain they were plants, but calling up audience members to participate brings a different kind of energy to the show. I loved it.

The band is also on stage for the entire show. I cannot express how much I love having the band on stage. It brings such charm and ambiance and I think the band should always be on stage. I also appreciated the contemporary updates to the script. When outdated jokes or bits can be updated to include current events, the laughter is genuine and uncontrollable. I will not give away any of the jokes, but there were several times I could not stop laughing and I got to forget about life for a while.

Each character gets their own song, performed brilliantly by this cast. There is no shortage of music and when the cast sings together, their voices blend in perfect harmony. I will never tire of seeing a truly unified and successful ensemble and this cast never misses a beat.

The first character we are introduced to is Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Aydan Bruce. Bruce has a lovely voice and her character blended with the children seamlessly. As the cast is small, the actors portray multiple characters, and Bruce also plays Olive's mother. The genius of the directing is that the actors transform into other characters by changing or adding a piece of clothing. The action does not have to stop and the actors do not have to wear themselves out with quick changes backstage. I was so impressed with how cohesive the performance was, despite all the moving parts.

As the contestants arrive, the audience is introduced to their personalities and quirks. Each speller has a different process and you can tell that the actors are having such a good time. Jonice Bernard plays Olive Ostrovsky, the quiet, new girl with abandonment issues. Bernard has a wonderful stage presence. Olive is timid, but understands her strengths and is determined to succeed despite her misfortunes. Bernard clearly understands her character and the audience cannot help but root for her.

As Leaf Coneybear (and one of Logainne's dads), Wesley Bradstreet is superb. From his puppet cape to his light up shoes, Bradstreet perfectly captures Leaf's insecurities and the pressure he feels from his family. Lina Forero plays Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere. Logainne is a politician in the making and has daddy issues. She is a brilliant speller, and has too much character to be a politician. Forero is a delight. She is believable and funny, which is a winning combination.

There is nothing unfortunate about Leo Gallegos's portrayal of Chip Tolentino. I promise you will laugh at him and with him as Chip participates in the Bee. There is a certain nuance required when singing about delicate subjects and Gallegos nails it.

Liuyi Jiang plays Marcy Park. Marcy is smart, dedicated, and determined to win; until she isn't. This dichotomy is so fun to watch because Jiang leans into it and never relents. Jiang plays the character with poise and grace which adds to the humor. These kids are wise beyond their years and there is a lesson to be learned from how they handle the adversity heaped upon them.

Teddy Ladley plays William Barfee (pronounced "bar fay"). William really has no redeeming qualities when the show begins, but he learns a lot along the way and Ladley helps the audience warm to his character. The magic of the portrayal not only lives in his foot, but in his commitment to the physicality required for the role.

The final two players are Chris Elliott who plays Mitch Mahoney (and others) and Seth Morton who plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch. Elliott is exuberant and successfully inhabits each character he plays. His energy is contagious and he secures the attention of the audience the whole time he is on stage. Morton is delightfully smarmy. Just as smarmy as you expect a vice principal to be. Morton also plays him a bit smug, which is apropos to the situation in which he finds himself. Panch clearly hates his life, but Morton does not wallow in it. I think that is why his character is so funny.

The creative team has done a wonderful job with the set, the lighting, the choreography, and the sound. Everything feels so intimate so the audience never feels very far from the action. Directed and choreographed by Seth Tucker, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is splendid. Presented by ASU Music Theatre and Opera at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre, you can buy tickets here. The show only runs through October 3rd, so please do not miss it. I promise you will leave the theater feeling happier.

A special shout out to the production and stage crew of this show. I never want to leave them out and things work so seamlessly thanks to everyone involved; the props, the costumes, and the divine intervention, deserve all the applause. Bravo to the people behind the scenes who make the scenes happen.

Photo Credit: Reg Madison


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