Posted in: Concerts & Events, Local Talent, News, Reviews | No Comments | February 13, 2022
DIVERSION Entertainment’s Production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Exquisitely Unlike Any Other Theatrical Experience
by Brian Hay
It must be a talent John Leverre has because he keeps finding things that are like that. ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ is so good it’s a wonder there’s not more productions of it. It’s also so strange the first impulse is to go back again if only to make sure it wasn’t a dream. ‘Altar Boyz’ was like that too, but completely different from the “Spelling Bee”. However he does it, it’s safe to say playwright Rachel Sheinkin’s and composer William Finn’s creation is completely, and exquisitely, outside the box.
The cast and crew execute this marvel beautifully. Music Director Sara Joy’s handling of the material is inspired and impeccable. The ensemble consisting of percussionist Harlan Braichet, reed player Frank Brennan, cellist Marcia Case and band leader, pianist Madeline Vrolyk, again establish her ability to create bands that play beautifully together. Her portrayal of the pristine (and somewhat repressed) ‘Ms. Perretti’ and her singing are excellent as well. She, along with Adam Hobbs and Meghan Storey, delivered an absolute knockout performance of ‘The, I Love You Song’. John Reid was perfect as her counterpart , the lascivious Vice Principal ‘Douglas Panch’.
Devan Wales Stole most of his scenes as ‘Chip Tolentino’ and certainly ran away with his moment as ‘Jesus’. Joanne Booth and Darryl Heater gave hilarious and sensitive portrayals to the roles of ‘Marcy Park’ and ‘Leaf’. Adam Hobbs was brilliantly funny as ‘Mitch Mahoney and Nathalie Normand was amazing as the righteously indignant (and speech-challenged) ‘Logainne Schwartandgrubenniere’. Special nods have to go to Sara Joy and John Reid for being able to say that name without tripping over it; they pulled it off flawlessly and it’s more of a mouthful than the title.
The two central protagonists — there’s no real “leads” in such an ensemble piece — were fabulous. Joe Bainbridge captured the vulnerability behind the facade of misanthropy projected by ‘William Barfee’ fully. Meghan Storey was wonderfully demure as the retiring and intrinsically gentle ‘Olive Ostrovsky’. Together they had the chemistry of youth reaching out yet not quite sure of how to move forward. The almost childlike innocence they projected in those moments sparked a delightful return to memories of those times for any who choose to think about them.
Dan Tidball had the sound sparklingly clear at all times. Matt Leslie’s lighting work directed the eye well but was kept fairly straightforward with good reason. The costumes, created by Erin Percival, suited the natures of the characters perfectly. The activity on stage was crafted beautifully by choreographer and stage manager Jackie Burns. In addition to the dance routines there’s an almost improbable amount of small things happening on at all times, and some of it has to be improvised around a variety of random elements.
The show brings members of the audience on stage and places them in the midst of the action with the chance they’ll be there for a while. There’s always something going on and sometimes the audience member(s) are a direct part of it. The concentration of the actors is phenomenal because they stay locked in character while coaching volunteers through the narrative. Seeing the the dance routines up close and from the middle provides an even greater insight into their complexity. The improvised bits tailored to the volunteers makes their going through the production with straight faces even more amazing. What’s most striking though is how considerate the cast members are.
When the action can involve audience participants they work you in. Little nudges keep volunteers alert so following motion comes easily. As impossible as it sounds, there’s even a moment shared in one of the dances. If you trip (which I did) there’s someone there to catch you. It was a glorious and once in a lifetime experience. My advice is, if the chance comes, take it. They take care of you up there. John has always said Diversion Entertainment’s goal is to provide the most enjoyable theatrical experience possible.
They’ve succeeded. This is pure enchantment.
For more reviews written by Brian Hay CLICK HERE
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