by FRANCES (FRANNY) STEC, Osbourn Park High School
There was never a dull moment at James Madison High School’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” From a character seemingly being possessed in order to spell words, to the appearance of a deity, the audience was laughing the entire time.
The 2005 Broadway musical evolved from an improvised play, originally called “C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E.” It features a main cast of six spellers, the moderator, the announcer and the “comfort counselor.”
(Each production also calls on a number of audience members, who are quickly prepped on what to do while onstage, adding to the improv aspect of the show.)
Each of the main contestants get eliminated in their own hilarious way until the end, where the eccentric William Barfée (Aaron Shansab) squares off against the strange yet lovable Olive Ostrovsky (Fortune Picker).
The main cast displayed incredible acting ability for high-schoolers, and each of them talked about their (some hilarious) struggles. Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Sasha Tepp), the youngest contestant, lamented about the immense pressure put on her by her dads, while William Barfée (Aaron Shansab) sang about how his foot was “magic.”
Olive Ostrovsky (Fortune Picker) wowed the audience when she performed with her parents (Matthew Pearson and Mary Ulses) in “The I Love You Song” as she waited for her parents to come and be there for her. Chip Tolentino (Bailey Pavitt-Graff) and Leaf Coneybear (Jonah Uffelman) provided comedic relief as Chip had an encounter with puberty and Leaf sought to prove to his family that he was smart. Marcy Park (Clare Shannon) went from trying to be the best all the time to messing up on purpose to satisfy herself.
Though some had more onstage time than others, every character succeeded in making the audience laugh. Vice Principal Panch (Bill Gibb) and Rona Lisa Peretti (Coco Pinnock) were an incredible duo, stealing the spotlight every time they interacted. Though he only appeared once briefly, Jesus (Luke Murphy) was the audience’s favorite character, from his hilarious entrance to when he broke through the doors for curtain call.
A standout technical element of the production was the lighting. Led by Graham Armstrong, the team used many different colors of lights to add to the atmosphere of the show. During “Pandamonium,” colored lights flashed and moved all around the auditorium, adding to the chaotic effect of the song. During any sort of flashback, there would be a spotlight timed perfectly along with whatever music, sound or dialogue happened.
The orchestra, known as “The Bee-Flats,” never missed a cue. It was clear how much effort they had put into their music, especially because their cues changed depending on how the ad-libbing went. They worked well with the actors and clearly knew the show inside and out, despite only being a high school orchestra.
From Leaf’s entrance on wheelies to Marcy’s splits in “I Speak Six Languages,” every moment in James Madison High School’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was unforgettable. The audience got a chance to be engaged with the story and really felt like they were a part of the spelling bee itself.
The students gave the audience a wonderful time and had an I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E- performance!
The Sun Gazette partners with the Critics and Awards Program (CAPPIES) to present student-written reviews of local high-school theater productions.
For more on the initiative, see the Web site at www.cappies.com/nca/.