Spelling bees are stressful enough, but imagine having to spell words while dancing, singing, and swinging from ropes. Okay, so the actors know the words beforehand, but its still a way to make education fun.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a one-act musical comedy which involves, you guessed it, a spelling bee competition at Putnam Valley Middle School.
An interesting aspect of this musical is that three or four audience members are able to participate in the bee by signing up before the show starts. However, this does not alter the plot of the play, since the audience members are eventually eliminated by being given difficult words to spell.
The musical is reflective of dysfunctional families, evident when each contestant reveals their own family history in song and dance.
For example, Olive Ovstrovsky, played by Paulina Logan,has seemingly “neglectful” parents who don’t find time to watch her at the bee.
There is also Logainne Shwartzand-Grubinierre, played by Leia Dilley, who has two gay dads, and Leaf Coneybear, played by Byron Monterroso, whom his family degrades by calling dumb.
There is some raunchy and silly humor at times, sprinkled with a dash of mild profanity.
The audience seemed to laugh an appropriate amount through the entire performance.
It was intriguing to see how some contestants used their own techniques to spelling out words. For instance, there is William Barfee’s, played by Joshua Yukiah Archer, magic foot technique, which involved spelling out the letters of a word on the floor to visually “see” the word before spelling it out.
Another interesting technique used by the director was flashbacks during the musical.
Overall, the singing and acting from the cast members ranged from good to outstanding.
I was blown away by how the actors multitasked their movements while singing.
One song that really stood out was the “Pandemonium” song. Besides being catchy, having good lyrics, and being sung well, it also had some mind-blowing stunt work by the actors. Chip Tolentino, played by Joenhel Cayanan, was swinging from a rope while others were moving in “ring around the rosie” fashion.
There was even a scene where all the characters were moving in simulated slow-motion. It was refreshing to see such creativity applied to song and dance.
Another entertaining performance came from Tolentino singing “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament).” It was spectacular how he walked up steps and danced while taking the show away with his outstanding singing ability.
The “The I love You Song” number from Mitch Mahoney, played by Andrew Pantazis, Ovstrovsky, and Rona Peretti, played by Kylee Parks, proved to be another outstanding as well as emotional piece about Ovstrovsky’s parents.
While there are emotional and serious issues to be found here, the musical does not seem to take itself seriously. For the most part the play takes a more light-hearted approach.
One example of this goofiness was Monterroso’s portrayal of contestant Leaf Coneybear. Aside from wearing a superman cape and shirt, and a helmet, the actor sang in a funny voice while hyper in his actions. It seemed like he had an endless supply of energy the entire performance, and for that I applaud him.
The cast seemed to fit their roles perfectly.
While the musical was a spectacular comedy-driven piece, it just seemed like some of the songs were not as memorable or as entertaining as tunes from “Annie” or “The Wizard of OZ,” but that is not the fault of the cast members. It is simply a subjective opinion of the written material. It still succeeds in its clever humor, musical numbers, and interesting and diverse characters.
Also, since it is a one-act play, the plot can feel redundant at times. The setting never changed and the characters spell words to the very end.
Overall, the enjoyment factor can be measured with a four out of five stars.
The latest production by the Theater Arts department, “The Firebugs.” opens Thursday evening.