Eastlight Theatre ends their shortened regular season with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" playing this weekend and next.
Just as the title states, this is a musical comedy that takes place at a grade school county spelling bee. The play provides a fun opportunity for adult actors to play the roles of stereotypical children, with all their talents and foibles.
This ensemble cast, featuring a few fresh faces, dives right in.
Each child has his or her own method to ensure their spelling success. One contestant must spell the words out with his foot, another writes the word on her forearm, another speaks the word into her hand first in order to prevent a misspoken letter.
The bee is conducted and supervised by Miss Rona Peretti (Katie McLuckie), a former winner herself, and by Vice-Principal Douglas Panch (Mike Reams) who is returning following a five year absence due to an undefined "incident". The losing children are given a hug and a juice box by "comfort counselor" Mitch Mahoney (Anthony Hendricks) who serves in this role as a community service condition of his parole.
In the first act, it seems to be the boys who shine. "Magic Foot" sung by Will Loftus as William Barfee was excellent, as well as "I'm Not That Smart" by Kyle Motsinger as the home-schooled free spirit, Leaf Coneybear. When I have seen this play in the past, the Barfee character always seems to be the audience favorite. However, in this production, it is Mr. Motsinger who steals the show. His Coneybear is perfectly played and never for one second is he out of character.
The second act starts off with a bang when Chip (Jarod Hazard) sings "Chip's Lament". I was perplexed by the tepid audience response to this funny number. Perhaps too many were not comfortable with a song that is all about "my unfortunate erection"? In any case, this was an excellent performance by Mr. Hazard.
The rest of act two belongs to the girls.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Ingrid Weiman) is a young girl pressured to succeed through any means necessary by her two dads.
Marcy Park (Clarissa Childs) is the snooty parochial school girl whose deepest wish is to simply stop being perfect (and perhaps only Jesus can grant that wish!).
Lastly, there is Olive Ostrovsky (Bethany Freitag), a girl whose mother is on a self-absorbed quest for meaning in India and whose workaholic father seldom has time for her.
Although this is definitely a comedy, the show takes a decidedly serious turn in the lovely "I Love You Song" sung by Olive and her parents (Anthony Hendricks & Katie McLuckie in dual roles). This is an absolutely beautiful song that is all about the complex emotions between parents and child, between mom and dad, and the insecurities that can trouble these relationships. This trio certainly does justice to this wonderful number.
Mike Reams is well cast and turns in a good performance as the troubled vice-principal. The play also features a bit of fun audience participation, with some patrons selected to participate in the bee along with the 'children'.
With only three shows this year, Eastlight has left me longing for more.
Please see this one while you can, and let us hope that they return to a full season in 2011.
Thanks to ALL the talented folks at Eastlight for such a memorable season!