TheaterWorks competition spells 'F-U-N'
Yes, there are still excellent spellers, in spite of spell check and dictionary online. You can meet some of them in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin at TheatreWorks in New Milford.
If you're a really good speller, then you just might be one of four from the audience selected to join the six onstage spellers. Six adult actors don the wardrobes and eccentricities of middle school students. Awkward and insecure, yet smart enough to make it to the final competition, these kids will make you laugh as soon as you set your eyes on them.
David Anctil as William Barfee is the funniest member of the cast. Looking at a geeky, overgrown kid in shorts with his shirt hanging out and his hairdo more of a "hair don't" is a guaranteed laugh. Add to that a nasty disposition and a drive to be the champion, and you've got the makings of a M-O-N-S-T-E-R. He also has one peculiar quirk. Using his imagination, he spells out each word with his foot before he responds orally. Of course, this is a tactic that is actually used by some spelling bee contestants. This one-act musical does envelop the trials and tribulations of real wiz kids. When Anctil sings "Magic Foot," he shows off his vocals as well as his fancy footwork.
Barfee is not the only one with an unusual habit. Vicki Sosbe plays Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre, a pigtailed gal with a lisp who visualizes the word by spelling it out on her arm with her finger before she responds to the judges. Speaking of the judges, director Beth Bonnabeau couldn't have found a more talented judge and former champion than Priscilla Squiers, who makes even the most inane songs sound sweet.
Michael Wright as Vice Principal Douglas Panch is hilarious as he delivers the most useless definitions upon the spellers' requests. All the contestants who fail are escorted out by Mitch Mahoney, a threatening looking parolee, played by no-nonsense Jerrial T. Young.
Adding to the enjoyment are the random audience members who get to spell. In one especially funny scene, the audience contestant is given the word "Mexican" to spell and succeeds handsomely.
Then an actor contestant is given a particularly difficult word to spell and goes ballistic. It's quite funny and the timing is right on.
There are poignant moments as well as humorous ones. Spelling contests are stressful and kids really do put everything they've got on the line. However, hearts melt when Catherine J. Crocetto as Olive Ostrovsky steps up to the microphone.
Olive was embarrassed when asked where her entrance fee was. She said her father had it and he would be arriving any moment.
What is so sad is that Olive keeps looking for her father, but the audience suspects that he's never going to show.
Each speller has some problem typical of middle school aged students and the actors capture all the nuances of their young characters.
Tony Saracino as Chip finds himself in an embarrassing situation as his hormones rage out of control and a sexy young gal in the audience flirts with him. Jaclyn Blythe as Marcy Park is decked out prim and proper in her school uniform, but has no real desire to win the competition, and Leaf Coneybear is tired of being laughed at.
The whole cast is super talented and sing, dance and act well. The music is not especially memorable, but this small-scale musical is certainly entertaining.
Glenn R. Couture has transformed the stage into a realistic middle school auditorium right down to the banners on the wall and the flag on the stage.