This review of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 3 (2013) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Cultural Arts Playhouse (625 Old Country Road, Plainview, NY)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical comedy conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss. The musical was based upon C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E, an original improvisational non-musical play created by Rebecca Feldman, and performed by The Farm, a New York-based improvisational comedy troupe. It was work shopped and developed at the Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts in 2004 and moved Off-Broadway to the Second Stage Theatre, officially opening on February 7, 2005 and closing on March 20, 2005. The musical premiered on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on April 15, 2005 and closed on January 20, 2008 after 1,136 performances. The show won Tony Awards for Best Book (Rachel Sheinkin) and Best Featured Actor (Dan Fogler).
In the show, six "students" compete in a fictitious spelling bee joined by four audience volunteers who are recruited to participate on stage as guest spellers. The six "student" contestants in this production were George Anagnostakos as William Morris Barfee (pronounced Bar-FAY; a Putnam County Spelling Bee finalist last year who was eliminated because of an allergic reaction to peanuts and uses the "Magic Foot" method of spelling out each word on the floor before visualizing it and answering), Michael Marmann as Leaf Coneybear (a home-schooled son of former Hippies who has severe Attention Deficit Disorder, makes his own clothes and said "My favorite birthday is Christmas. That's when Santa Claus was born"), Jojo Minasi as Chip Tolentino (an athletic Boy Scout and champion of the 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, who has an erection at an extremely inopportune moment and exclaims "my unfortunate protuberance seems to have its own exuberance"), Alyson Rogers as Olive Ostrovsky (a shy girl with a mother in an ashram in India and a father who often works late who has made friends with her dictionary but who eventually blossoms after developing a connection with fellow contestant William Morris Barfee), Alyssa Caracciolo as Marcy Park (an overachieving transfer student from Virginia who starts to question whether winning is everything), and Sarah Berger as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (the head of the Gay-Straight alliance at her Elementary School who has two dads, one of whom suggests she cheats to order to hurt the chances of one of her competitors). All of the contestants are introduced with humorous commentary. For example, one "student" was introduced as someone who "was thrown out of the Girl Scouts for letting the boys eat her cookies." Another was said to have thought "bi-polar" was "a big bear with no sexual preference." The three main "adults" in the production were Taneisha Corbin as Rona Lisa Peretti (the Moderator), Kyle Petty Lee as Mitch Mahoney (the Official Comfort Counselor, who gives all the losers a hug and a juice box), and Thomas J. McKenna (the Vice-Principal who reads the words to the students).
This production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee features a superb cast who excel in their respective roles. They are extraordinarily talented actors and singers who work well together creating an enjoyable experience for all. This is a fun show - lighthearted, humorous and easygoing. Don't expect any deep psychological insights into the featured characters. The most you will get is the revelation that winning isn't everything and that it is better to lose on merit than to win by cheating. Nevertheless, you won't find a better community revival of this musical. I have seen this show many times before and I still thoroughly enjoyed this production by the Cultural Arts Playhouse. I highly recommend it.