The lights in The Little Theatre are bright. The competition is intense. The words are hilarious. Let the spelling begin! This isn’t any regular spelling bee; it is the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The St. John’s Chappell Players are currently in their run of the Tony Award-winning musical the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show centers on a fictional spelling bee in Putnam County, New York, in which six kids face off in the battle of their lives. They compete fiercely against each other as well as volunteer audience members.
The musical hosts a cast of memorable and humorous characters. They include overachievers, wallflowers and scatter-brains. The story deals with more than just the spelling bee – it also deals with these characters’ issues. Throughout the musical, audiences are given glimpses into the lives and minds of each character through flashbacks that show scenes of the characters’ family lives.
The spellers, played by Dylan Frisina, Sarah Goncalves, Lara Love, Rich Masin, Jessica Hackett and Justin Phillips, each have a personal solo that gives the audience a look into their personalities and approaches to the competition.
One of the most essential and funniest elements of the play is the words used in the spelling bee. Not only are these words highly obscure, but they are accompanied by some of the most questionable and laughable sentences.
This production features a lot of improvisation and audience participation.
During the first scene, members of the audience are picked to join the characters on stage and participate in the spelling bee. These audience members are given a chance to compete in the cut-throat competition all the while being gently teased by the bee announcer. If an audience member answers correctly he or she is allowed to stay for more rounds and songs. If not, he or she is escorted offstage by the bee’s comfort consular while the cast sing their goodbyes. There are also other opportunities to feel a part of the show. An audience member might be lucky enough get free candy thrown at them by a disgruntled speller or even be picked out to be a pubescent boy’s object of the affection.
The Chappell Players’ production is filled with an all-star cast that manages to capture and entertain an audience for an hour and 45 minutes through singing and dancing. Each cast member does an excellent job portraying their characters, whether they are flawed children or frustrated adults. Some of the best acting comes from the “parents” of the spellers. The parents, portrayed by Chris Engler, Michael Courtien and Alexa Peyton, appear in different costumes as different family members of the spellers in flashback scenes and musical numbers.
Some of the funniest lines come from the three adults who are constantly on stage; Rona Lisa Peretti (played by Sarah Derene), the host who was a champion back in the day; Vice Principal Doug Panch (played by Taylor Pedane), whose outbursts led to a five year hiatus from the bee; and Mitch Mahoney (played by Matthew Gray), the comfort consular, an ex-convict giving out juice boxes to losers. They poke fun at all the contestants, especially the audience volunteers.
All in all, this is a must-see musical for everyone affiliated with the St. John’s community. St John’s students cannot only get reduced admission, but also a chance to retrieve coveted MVP points. This is also a good event to attend during the upcoming family weekend in which the whole family can enjoy the hilarity that is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.