25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE SPELLBINDS
By Isabella Alessandrini
August 13, 2015 -- For a musical entitled The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, this North Shore Arts Angels production could not have been more unexpectedly entertaining. With the help of the experienced and incredibly talented artistic director Terry Berliner and producer/Arts Angels board member Julia Brennan, the actors of the Summer Theater Workshop were able to put on a fantastic performance that made the members of the audience walk away with a grin on their faces, a playbill in their hands, and a significantly expanded vocabulary.
From the moment that the judge of the Bee, Rona Lisa Perretti (played by alumnus Casey Rice), walks purposefully onto the stage and pointedly reminds the audience of how she won her spelling bee with the word 'syzygy', before she introduces all of the spellers competing that day, it was obvious that this play was going to be a witty one.
The personalities of the contestants vary greatly, ranging from the ever so arrogant William Barfée (pronounced 'Bar-fay,' as insisted by Caroline Schwab) to the ditzy but lovable Leaf Coneybear (played by Catherine Cundari) to the endearingly eager Olive Ostrovsky (Samantha Frank). Joseph Doyle plays Chip Tolentino who is rivaled in competitiveness only by Marcy Park (Olivia Bross) or perhaps the socially conscious, politically correct Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Hannah Schoen), desperate to win to impress her two fathers. Also included in the mix at every performance were several brave volunteers from the audience, including Christiane Podaras, Matt Mazzella, Amy Beyer, John Canning, Bill Mozer, Mike Lennon, Carolyn Genovesi and even Sea Cliff's very own mayor, Bruce Kennedy.
The common thread uniting all of these diverse characters is a love to spell and conviction that each is destined to win.
Vice Principal Panch (alumnus Zachary Cohn) announces every word to be spelled and provides spellers with definitions and sidesplitting, if not slightly off-color, example sentences.
Some 'alphabetter' spelling secrets of the trade are also revealed, such as murmuring letters into one's hand before saying them (because once a word is said, it cannot be unsaid), writing words on one's arm to visualize them, and using a magic shoe to spell the word out.
Also featured is comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Ned Brennan), whose job it is to escort disqualified spellers off the stage and provide them with a pity juice box. And as each contestant is eliminated and promptly walked off, he tries to cushion the blow with the upbeat Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.
In Pandemonium, Mr. Mahoney offers another life-lesson - attributing the unfairness of receiving words of varying difficulties (e.g. 'cow' versus 'lysergic acid diethylamide') in spelling bees to the "pandemonium" of life in general.
Ultimately, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee pushes viewers to challenge stereotypes, recognizing that a girl such as Marcy Park who speaks six languages isn't always 'all business,' that even the most determined of spellers like Chip Tolentino can fall prey to love and lust, that those who are 'not that smart' like Leaf Coneybear can go far in the world, and that even smart-alecks with magic shoes such as William Barfée can make true friends.
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