A+ for “Spelling Bee”

A+ for “Spelling Bee”

Photo courtesy of Zach Tysinger

Last week, the Lafayette Theater Department put on an outstanding performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in the Williams Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre. A musical comedy, the show (as its title suggests) is about the 25th annual spelling bee in Putnam County. This show is not so much about the actual bee, but more about the six main spellers: Chip Tolentino (Ryan Raesly ‘15), Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Samantha Meyerson ‘15), Leaf Coneybear (Luis Aviles ‘17), Marcy Park (Aleni Mackarey ‘16), William Barfee (Joseph Rothschild ‘16), and Olive Ostrovsky (Hannah Weaver ‘17).

The show’s underlying goal is to highlight the struggles and pressures of modern-day pre-adolescents. Although outrageously funny, and at times ridiculous, the musical also sends out a resounding message about what preteens have to cope with on a daily basis including parental pressures, bullying, the marital issues of their parents, and puberty.

There was not one actor who did not perform above and beyond college level theatre. Nikelia Haines ‘15, playing two roles (“speller” Rona Lisa Perretti and Olive’s mom), had vocals that were just as good, if not better than the original Broadway casting of Rona. Haines’ chilling harmony of the most vocally demanding song in the show, “The I Love You Song” with also impressive Hannah Weaver ‘17 and Marcus Vilmé ‘17, blew me away.

Actors playing spellers in the show were able to do something quite spectacular in pristinely channeling the body language of uncomfortable, self-conscious, and quirky pubescent nerds. Joseph Rothschild ‘16, as William Barfee, had the difficult and athletic task of working his “magic foot” while simultaneously using his saline nasal spray.

The comedy of the show came from a few notable actors including Ryan Raesly ‘15 in his performance of the infamous “Chip’s Lament,” Marcus Vilmé ‘17 as the convicted comfort counselor, and Patrick Grundy ‘15 who played a sarcastic and crazed vice principal in desperate need of anger management therapy.

Although not every musical number was seamless and some blocking issues were evident, it is difficult to be critical of these aspects of the show because of the large undertaking it is to not have a defined stage, and to have non-actors onstage during numbers that require a lot of movement. I will say that the more complicated blocking that required accuracy, like the slow motion and dream sequences, were close to perfect.

Like the original Broadway production, the entire theatre resembled a middle school gymnasium with a few added Lafayette touches, like making the Putnam mascot a leopard.

One very important component to the show is having a theatre in the round, making the audience feel engaged with the show and forcing them to interact. The Player’s show was no different than its Broadway predecessor in maintaining audience participation. Before opening, members could sign up to be chosen as featured spellers in the show. These non-actors were put on the spot to spell words like “cow,” but then given large impossible words to be eliminated with, contributing to much of the comedy in the show.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee receives an “A +” for maintaining the spirit of the story, exhibiting incredible musical and acting talents, and for making the audience laugh even as we were leaving the theatre.