“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by William Finn and Rachel Scheinkin, with its nine quirky characters, is just a perfect fit for …
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“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by William Finn and
Rachel Scheinkin, with its nine quirky characters, is just a
perfect fit for Town Hall Arts Center’s theater, which has been
transformed into your standard high school gym by Tina
The walls are made from standard large tan ceramic tiles, the
basketball hoop awaits shots and the sort of clock one sees across
the country in public places hangs on the wall. Bleachers are in
place for spelling bee contestants as lights go up. In a high
cubicle with school-like windows, one can see the live band,
directed by Donna Debreceni, which adds a welcome layer to the
ingredients of this charming production, directed by funny guy
This well-received 2005 Broadway production won two Tonys and
has been produced across the nation since rights became available.
One of its unusual features is that it invites four audience
members from each performance to “compete,” so if that’s a skill
you have, sign up in the lobby! Retiring THAC board member Kelly
Kates was among those chosen on opening night, due perhaps to
inside jokers. A teacher as well as a choreographer, she aced most
words thrown at her.
Act I opens with former spelling champion Rona Lisa Peretti
(Margie Lamb), who is now a champion local Realtor and the bee
sponsor, setting the flag in place, then the trophy, and checking
on her list that everything is in order. You feel certain that she
is still an intense competitive sort as she recalls that her
winning word was syzygy.
We meet Vice Principal Douglas Panch, the pronouncer, whose
sentences using the words are consistently less than helpful. And
there is Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney, a tattooed biker type who
is doing his court-ordered community service time. Daniel Langhoff
and Brian Smith bring comedic skills to these parts without
Enter the six contestants, each a middle school misfit in one
way or another. Spelling is one thing they are all good at. The
audience learns about each contestant as they come to the
microphone to compete, with family flashbacks played by the
Lonely Olive Ostrovsky appears first, anxiously looking for her
late-working father to appear because she hasn’t paid her entry fee
yet. Her mom is in an ashram in India and the dictionary is her
best friend. Heather Fritton plays this kid who is a mix of
intellectual and anxious teen.
Hippie child Leaf Coneybear (Cameron Stevens), who makes his own
clothes, is a subject of laughs for his family and sings about how
he’s not smart — while spelling correctly.
Cocky William Barfee has an unusual technique: he traces the
word on the floor with his foot before saying it and says “I know”
when told he’s right. Scott Rathbun, in a welcome debut at Town
Hall, is revisiting a favorite role.
When Chip Tolentino (Chris Trimboli) is called, he’s not paying
attention, distracted by Leaf’s pretty sister in the second row. He
spells his word wrong, although he was a winner last year and
explains his problem in a song “My Unfortunate Erection.”
Ultimate overachiever Marcy Park (Julia Perotta), who speaks six
languages, has a vision and changes her lifestyle, thank
Perky Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, described as “differently
aspirated” by newcomer Kateri McRae, has to deal with two dads who
don’t like losers.
All of the actors show skill in creating a distinct character
that engages and amuses and reflect Bob Wells’ deft touch in
highlighting differences. Nick Sugar is choreographer and Mary
Dailey Gottleib fills in on piano when the busy Debreceni is not
A finale ties up loose ends and gives the audience a peek into
the future of each character before they exit smiling.
If you go:
“ The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” plays through Jan.
30 at Twn Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Littleton.
Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m.
Sundays. Tickets: $18 to $36. 303-794-2787, ext. 5, www.townhallartscenter.com.
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