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Review: 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE SHINES at STAGEWORKS THEATRE

This cast delivers a top notch production that is fun to watch!

Review: 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE SHINES  at STAGEWORKS THEATRE

"Life is random and unfair...Life is Pandemonium"

"In the moment before the bee, Claims its first catastrophe, I love what I see, Kids acting innocently, It's my favorite moment of the bee."

Every so often in our lives, along comes a musical full of heart. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a musical comedy with Music & Lyrics by William Finn, with a book by Rachel Sheinkin. The Broadway Production opened in 2005 and was directed by James Lapine. Since its opening, many productions both locally and regionally have been produced throughout the United States. Spelling Bee was nominated for 6 Tony Awards, winning two including Best Book.

This fast-paced musical comedy features 6 adult performers playing children in a local annual spelling bee competing for the top prize, and a savings bond for furthering their education. At the judge's table and moderator for the events of the bee are past spelling Champion Rona Lisa Peretti, who is also a local Real-Estate Agent, and Vice Principal Douglas Panch. The unique aspect of the show is that four audience members are invited on stage with the performers in the show to compete in the bee. The Announcer and Moderator switch off by ad-libbing mixed sentences and various definitions for the words often to hilarious ends. One by one the performers playing middle school-aged children take their turn at the mic and perform their unique form of spelling by talking into their hand, writing the word on the floor with their foot, or drawing the word on their arm all competing to make sure each word is spelled correctly.

Surprised mistakes happen and as hilarious antics ensue one by one the spellers are eliminated none faster than the audience members asked to participate in the bee. The spellers tell individual stories of occurrences that have happened to them in the past, including "Chip's Lament," and an unfortunate peanut allergy-inducing incident that befell Barfee. With catchy songs such as "Life is Pandemonium," "Magic Foot," "I'm Not That Smart," and "I Speak Six Languages," Finn's lyrics will have you singing all the way home.

From start to finish this cast takes the stage by storm and the talent shines through in every hilarious antic.

At the top of the show, we meet Rona Lisa Peretti portrayed by local area favorite Heather Krueger. Having last witnessed Heather's gravitas on stage in Shout: the Mod Musical, I was excited to witness her presence on stage once more. Her Rona Peretti is sophisticated, concise, and full of heart. Her back and forth with Vice Principal Douglas Panch, and even the students prove that Heather can take any role and make it her own. She is the perfect Moderator for the Bee, and her rendition of "My Favorite Moment of the Bee," and "I Love You Song," are exquisite. Always a joy to watch on stage and her Rona Peretti is the perfect addition to her already stellar repertoire.

Vice Principal Douglas Panch played by Matthew McGee is fantastic here. The perfect announcer and full of sharp wit that we have come to know lies behind every role Matthew takes on, and here is no different. There is a moment in the middle of the show when a slow-motion moment takes over that needs to be seen, for it's hilarious in every sense of the word. Matthew always finds a way to keep the show moving and with his Douglas Panch helping steer the ship, the bee moves at a Rapid Pace. This is a great role for Matthew and he keeps the show current with ad-libs about Dear Evan Hansen, and his delivery of definitions and sentences are exceptionally hilarious in delivery. Another stellar portrayal by McGee and he should be exceptionally proud of his work here.

As Chip Tolentino, Dylan Glover a recent University of Tampa Graduate makes his Stageworks debut. His presence on stage is one to watch, and he commands each hilarious moment. His "Chip's Lament," is exquisite as he sings about an "Unfortunate" incident involving adolescence and "certain body parts." Be prepared to catch flying candy during this number as he throws it all over the audience. A wonderful debut from a young performer on the way to the top of his game, and Dylan should be extremely proud of his work here, as I for one will be looking out for the next time he is on stage.

Austin White as William Barfee is a wonderful addition to this zany cast of characters. He makes "Magic Foot" his own. Imagine if Chris Farley or Wayne Knight took on this role, and you would get Austin's portrayal. His moments with Olive are endearing and a joy to watch.

As Leaf Coneybear, Patrick C. Messmer is exceptional. A Tampa transplant from Long Island, Patrick is here pursuing his B.F.A in Musical Theatre and B.A in Dance at the University of Tampa. Making his Stageworks debut, his Leaf Coneybear is full of heart and gusto. There is also a moment in the show in which Patrick doubles as Logiann's father. Patrick is one to watch and his comedic timing is spot on. Not to mention the hilarious costume Coneybear dons is worth every penny. I'm excited to see where his future on local area stages brings him during his journey.

Julia Rifino is a joy as Olive Ostrovsky. You feel for her in the absence of both her parents. Having last seen Julia onstage in Shout: the Mod Musical at the Straz Center, it was great to see her on stage once again. Boasting a powerful voice, and innocence in Olive's presence makes this portrayal a great one. "My Friend the Dictionary," is a great moment for Julia, and her moments in "The I Love You Song," really show the power in her voice.

Corey Kelly as Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney is wonderful here. His smooth vocals add a different layer to the hilarious antics throughout the show. There is also a moment in which he doubles as Logiann's Dad, and later Olive's (The I Love You Song). Corey shows the depths of his range in all 3 roles, and his flexibility to play 3 separate roles, makes Corey a wonderful addition to the company.

As Marcy Park, Katie Huettel takes no prisoners with her portrayal. She is the one student who is perfect in all she attempts and will never falter. Her rendition of "I Speak Six Languages," one of the more well-known songs of the musical is great. Katie should be proud of her exceptional turn as Marcy Park.

In an exceptional Company that is stellar from top to bottom, it can often be hard to pinpoint a "Best in Show," for me, in this instance, the title hands down go to Jordan Lakins as Logianne SchwartzandGrubenaire. From the moment she takes the stage, Jordan is in it to win it. Her portrayal of Logianne is no exception. Her moment to moment is so finite here that she's untouchable. From her facial expressions to her general presence/energy on stage Jordan is exceptional. A current B.F.A Acting major at Pace University, she is a welcomed addition to the company with her debut at Stageworks, and one who will be on my radar for some time to come.

An exceptionally talented cast makes a Director's job an easier task to mount when producing a show. Director Paul E. Finocchiaro assembled an exceptional company full of diverse performers on stage and backstage, and what better a company to keep. Paul steers the ship with the strongest of hands, and expertly paces every moment of the bee. Not one weak link in the whole company, this is a joy to watch from start to finish. In a world that is so enamored with rising costs of living it's wonderful to be able to take a break and just laugh. Paul and the Company of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, allow us to do just that.

Juan Rodriguez serves as the bee's Musical Director and leads the band with the finest of hands. When the show started for the first couple of numbers the band was slightly louder than the singers which proved difficult to hear, but then as the show progressed the issue subsided. I wonder if there might be a way for the Sound Board operator to turn the volume up on the mics for the first few numbers and be able to scale them back once the show continues.

As always Stageworks spares no expense to ensure exceptional technical elements that are top-notch, and here is no exception. Set Design/Sound Design by Karla Hartley and Lighting Design by Jo Averill-Snell blend together seamlessly and complement each other to tell the story in which these characters reside. Costume Design by Paul E. Finocchiaro and Heather Krueger brings these zany characters to life and each has its own unique attributes. Technical Director Paul McColgan brings Karla's design to life with moveable bleachers and a basketball hoop that brings the audience into the gym of a middle school for the bee. It's functional in design and execution and allows the performers to move about the space with ease. Technically strong in execution and design The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is top-tier.

As always when a musical such as Spelling Bee is announced one begins to wonder how will they make this production fresh, and different than the rest? Well, I can say from first-hand experience, that you should look no further than the fine folks at Stageworks Theatre, for they have accomplished that and then some. First and foremost, you cast exceptional talent in not just the Moderator and Announcer, but also those playing the kids as well. The ad-libs make this musical fresh and keep it moving, and relevant to the time in which we live. With ad-libs of Political Figures, pop-culture icons, and current Broadway Musicals the folks at Stageworks have created a zany masterpiece that will keep you laughing from start to finish. You feel good when you leave the theatre, and a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that all involved had such a good time makes this ticket the one to buy! This cast and company involved that make this show feel fresh and new needs to be seen! So waste no time and get your ticket to the bee, you'll be sure glad you did! Take it from one speller to the next, you want to put your name in to be a guest speller! DO NOT MISS the zany, hilarious antics that befall the spellers of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, on stage in the Channel District of Downtown Tampa through June 19th, 2022. The absolutely perfect ending to an exceptionally wonderful Season of Live Theatre. Tickets can be purchased by visiting stageworkstheatre.org.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ned Averill-Snell



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From This Author - Drew Eberhard