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Theatre Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a rollicking pandemonium

Lisa Much Lisa Much Theatre Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a rollicking pandemonium
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CATCO’s newest production The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee showcases a fine array of budding nerdom. A show that conjures up memories of reading composition books under the covers by flashlight in lieu of going to sleep—or maybe only I did that. Regardless, Spelling Bee offers a group of awkward, misfit children that the audience inherently roots for and loves.

Japhael Bondurant ( William Barfée), performs in CATCO’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee July 31-Aug. 8. Photo by Red Generation Photography.

Taking place within the Putnam County High School gym (a perfect and encompassing set by Michael S. Brewer with art by Edith Dinger Wadkins), the Bee features adolescent spellers, played by adults, as they strive to win the trophy and title of best speller in the county along with a trip to the national competition. The spellers’s quirks come out under the guidance of the adult representatives, including a slightly obsessed former Bee winner, a tired Vice Principal, and a “comfort counselor” conducting community service on parole. What happens in the couple of hours of the Bee can best be described as pandemonium.

The cast, under fine direction from Steven Anderson, creates a nice ensemble piece. Songs effortlessly flow between scenes, and the spellers’s nerdiness and eccentricities play off each other well. This hodge-podge group includes Leaf Coneybear, the easily distracted kid who must wear a helmet (Patrick Walters); William Barfee, the mucous-prone science geek with a magic foot (Japheal Bondurant); Olive Ostrovsky, the quiet girl whose parents never seem available for her (Elisabeth Zimmerman), among others. While these performers portray children, Krista Lively-Stauffer and Ralph E. Scott find a brilliant balance between the realities of the adult figures of emcee and Vice Principal without falling into a caricature; the result is seemingly effortless comedy.

Spelling Bee provides a couple hours of rollicking, pure fun music. Highlights include “I’m Not That Smart,” in which Leaf reflects on himself and his family and “I Speak Six Languages,” where Marcy Parks, the hyper-over-achiever (played by Nicolette Montana) explains the simplicity yet struggle of accomplishment. Matt Clemens provides exquisite musical direction, and the unseen but wonderful band, consisting of Seth Daily, Mary Featherston, Brian Lang, Dean Marcellana, and Ken Griffith keeps the show rocking. Cynthia Stillings’ frenzied but stylized lighting and Brian Kallaher’s sound design mirror the fine pacing.

Simply put, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee warms the cockles of your heart. The slightly hyperbolized children and their stories, along with the fine design create an evening of constant laugh-out-loud enjoyment that makes the audience remember the ultra-defining moments of their youth. A guaranteed great evening.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays through August 18 at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm; Wed at 11 am. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat.; $11 on Wed.

More information can be found online at www.catco.org.

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