I have been doing and watching musical theater for quite some time now, and through my years as a performer and audience member, I have come to have a list of “favorites”. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is on that list. I’ve seen it six different times, each cast being very different from the other, but Close Shave’s production of the show is by far the best version I have ever seen, and one of the best overall productions I have seen performed by high school students. But what made this cast and performance so special? Well, for starters, it was directed by teenagers. Yes, you read that right: teenagers, ranging from the ages of 15 to 19, all of who have performed in numerous musicals before, organized and led the cast (with the help of some very incredible parents). That’s not something that happens very often. Then there’s also the fact that it was a quality performance. If you’ve watched a lot of theater, you know that there are some shows that you go to where you are just gripping the edge of your chair, fighting the urge to run out the doors. The cast was fully engaged in their world; always reacting to each other and making the audience connect on an emotional level. But the reason I loved this show so much was that they made it a show about people, which can be a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Each character gives you a different perspective on competition, the value of hard work, and the importance of each individual life.
Rona Peretti, played by Olivia Schneider, brings a light hearted take to the Bee. Once a champion herself, she is played opposite Evan Phillips, who plays Douglas Panch, the school’s Vice Principal. Very dry, very funny, Phillips brings a comedic energy to the stage while Schneider is loving and understanding of the kid’s feelings during the competition. Mitch Mahoney, played by Erin Cangelose, is a “comfort counselor” doing community service while on parole. She is “on” while on stage; constantly reacting snidely to the events of the Bee and every now and then, yelling at an uncooperative speller.
Chip Tolentino, played by Andrew Ascher, is the picture of a “good, all-American kid”. Boy scout and past spelling bee winner, he gives the example of how it you don’t always get your way, how you react shapes you into who you are. You can let situations that don’t really matter in the long run destroy your self esteem, or let them build you up. Ascher brings a very charming yet still innocent take to Chip’s character, which can be difficult while singing about… well, a distraction (My Unfortunate Distraction).
Leaf Coneybear, played by Ryan Beard, is a character that has a very positive outlook. Homeschooled, he is, quite frankly, really weird. But unlike Chip, he is constantly optimist through the story, and is a happy-go-lucky character. It’s interesting to see his reactions throughout the Bee, because unlike many of the constants, he is just super happy to be there, and is hoping to prove to his gigantic family that he is more than they think he is (I’m Not That Smart). Beard is hilarious, and is excellent at playing the stereotypical homeschooler with his impressive comedic timing.
Marcy Park, played by Faye Rebottaro, is the polar opposite of Coneybear. She’s the girl who can do it all, which is something that is a heavy weight on her shoulders. She has a reputation for winning and being incredibly well rounded, and I feel that her character conveys one of the biggest points of the show: Winning isn’t everything; even Jesus, played by Tyler MacSweeny, didn’t care if she won the Bee or not. Rebottaro is fantastic at playing the straight laced character, never breaking her stone face demeanor, and is also very entertaining with her tricks on stage (I Speak Six Languages).
Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, played by Alyse Berger, was the character that pulled on my heart strings the most throughout the show. She is the youngest speller in the bee and the adopted daughter of two gay fathers, played by Randy Jackson and Daniel Verschelden. They are the definition of helicopter parents, constantly pushing her to be the very best, stressing to her that “God hates Losers” (Woe is Me). Out of all the times that I have seen this show, this was the first time that Logainne’s character made me cry. Many people can connect to Berger’s performance of a child who is trying their very best to live up to ridiculous expectations and who is scared to death of failure.
William Barfee, played by Zach Faust, is one of the more eccentric characters in the cast, with his funny voice and his spelling technique (Magic Foot). Though he loves spelling (and being right), he is also a lover of science, which is not encouraged by his step-mother. He has a hard outer shell, but has a softer side that comes as the show progresses. Faust, who is on his second run of playing this character, brings a hilarious boy who struggles with major nasal issues and people skills into a new light from other productions, and is an actor who is the glue on stage for his fellow cast mates.
Olive Ostrovsky, played by Libby Terril, is the sweetheart of the show. A very shy, timid little girl, she is dealing with the absence of her mother, played by Olivia Schneider, who is in India to “find herself”, and the emotional absence of her father, played by Christian Geil. There is the underlying idea that she is being abused by her father, who is angry that his wife is gone (The I Love You Song), but through out the show, you see the character gain confidence that was buried inside of her. Terril makes you feel for this little girl, and you as an audience member, you want to see her succeed.
Putnam made me feel for these characters. Every one of them had a life outside of the Bee, but all of their lives came together in the school gym. Each was very different from the person sitting next to them, but all of them were extremely important. This show gives a powerful message: People are very important. We often get so swept up in ourselves that we forget how special and valuable other people are. I will never look at this show the same way after watching the performance this afternoon, and I highly suggest that you take the opportunity to go see this incredible cast tell a powerful story about people. Below, there is a link listed to order your ticket online. It is HIGHLY suggested that you order online, two shows are just a few tickets away from being sold out.
Thank you, Putnam Cast, for putting on such an incredible performance. It is one that I will hold in my heart forever 🙂
Until Next Time,
SHOW TIMES ARE 2PM, 7PM, AND A NEWLY ADDED 10PM SATURDAY, JULY 11TH! ORDER TICKETS NOW!!!!
Photo credit to Cameron Pratte, the Director of Advertising for Close Shave Productions https://www.facebook.com/closeshaveprod?fref=ts