Student Directed "...Spelling Bee" Spells Success, S-U-C-C-E-S-S, Success!

When one says "student directed" it tends to send a chill up this reviewer's back, especially within the high school theater community. So, walking into Agoura High School's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" I wasn't expecting much.

But, what an unexpected surprise in witnessing two hours of a very entertaining show!

To say that student director Jesse Fulton has a passion for directing is an understatement and you can see it in his work on stage as well as from the inside information that I have gathered from cast members and production staff.

The entire production and design staff is chock full of students. Some, first timers but mostly others who are familiar with treading the boards and being backstage.

One such student who deserves to be singled out is 10th grade music director, Jaden Levinson. The harmonies produced within the group numbers, and throughout the show, are no less executed as if a seasoned professional had done it.

Both she and Fulton need to continue their directorial pursuits in these areas as they move on to future work and/or universities. They have the makings of a very proficient director/music director.

The roles within the production have been, mostly, double cast. This reviewer saw Tuesday night's "Gold Cast" with the theatrical Ben Math (William Barfee ), the genuine Sam Bevill (Leaf Coneybear), the vocally-stellar Annabel Asher (Midge Mahoney), the consummate professional Leela Ladnier (Olive Otrovsky), the emotionally charged Quinn Chambers (VP Panch), the Dance proficient Roxanne Chevalier (Marcy Park), the emotionally available Nikki Nejadrasool (Rona Lisa Peretti), the consistently strong Kiana Brizendine (Logainne 'Shwartzy' ShwartzandGrubenierre), the golden-toned Jake Marone (Charlito 'Chip' Tolentino).

A few stand out moments include the trio, "The I Love You Song" with Marone and Nejadrasool providing some amazingly supportive harmonies and real emotion while Ladnier sores both emotionally and vocally! Another moment includes the entire cast in the musical number "Pandemonium". This show is a true ensemble vehicle and within this number all actors on stage are showing what the term ensemble really means. Kudos to student choreographers Hannah Hamermesh and Jade Kinomoto. Within other numbers, choreography is a tad pedantic and repetitive... But this group number truly shines!

Across the board, performances are top notch and all involved are encouraged to continue their studies in acting/vocals/dance!

Regarding the improvisational aspect of the show, this reviewer would like to have seen more listening and individual comments that pertain to and move the story along rather then, at one moment of the show, it seemed as though everyone was just randomly talking off script and it was a tad distracting.

Another observation with this production, directoraly, is that there are two shows being presented on this stage. On one hand, there is the show in which some actors are giving beautifully true, honest and personal performances (Ladnier and Bevill as examples), and then there is the other show in which some actors are giving over the top and "play for the comedy "performances (Math and Asher as examples). Neither is preferable over the other as both are very, very strong! I just would like to see a cohesive concepts regarding the acting style of the production as Fulton has been so very specific with his other choices throughout the production!

This student-run production should be celebrated! It is a sign that the education-aspect of the theater program At Agoura high school is back, after so many years of constant turnover. This wasn't an ego driven student run production, that is often prevalent in high school programs. This production is directed by someone with a passion and respect for the arts, and the cast and production staff that has the same interest and level of artistic expression.

Kudos to newly-hired theatre teacher David Krassner for bringing the respect back to this program.

This production runs through January 13. For information and (highly recommended) ticket purchasing, consult the website at

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From This Author Jeffrey Scott


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