THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (hereafter just SPELLING BEE) is a super example of an ensemble piece of theater. The dictionary (or as one of the characters sings it, “My Friend the Dictionary”) defines ensemble as “all the parts considered as a whole”. Saturday night I was privileged to see a superior example of ensemble playing. Every one of the parts was so well played that each balanced every other. It was theater magic.
Paul Bigas as ChipTolentino, the hormonally challenged past champion: Mia I. Mbuy as Logainne Schwartzandgeubenniere,the over-achieving lisping product of two dads; James Scotland IV as Leaf Coneybear, the not too bright, trancing oddball: Leigh Ann Brienza as Marcy Park, the extra over-achiever athlete and linguist; Bob Goretski as William Barfee (pronounced Bar Fay), the brilliant but off-putting slob with the magic spelling foot; and Christa Wisneski as Olive Ostrovsky, the shy product of a troubled marriage all are near perfect as the young contestants of the spelling bee.
As the adults-Sue Murphy as Rona Lisa Peretti, the organizer and major domo of the bee; Steve Schultz as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, the judge with a hankering for Ms Peretti; and Jason Kramer as Mitch Mahoney, the rough consolation person were tremendously effective.
Everyone sings very well. The cast handles the simple sounding but surprisingly difficult music with ease. Corralling all this talent as well as conducting from the keyboards, Denise Wisneski has done herself proud. At times the clarinet part was a bit loud, but the drum and flute parts were in balance.
Choreographer Renee Schultz moves the company on and off of the stage with grace and ingenuity. Director and set designer Dru Ullery hit all the right notes and kept the pace at just the right speed. I loved the carry through in the “gym” with the set dressing and floor painting.
I must mention the doubling of parts. It showed the flexibility of the cast. Jason Kramer was most effective in three entirely different roles. The trio with Ms. Murphy and Ms. Wisnesky was particularly lovely.
The four audience members who were called up to spell with the cast were a riot and good sports. One of the requisites of the parts of Rona Lisa Peretti and Vice Principal Panch is to comically comment on the ringers and eliminate them. Ms Murphy and Mr. Schultz were up to the challenge.
SPELLING BEE has Music & Lyrics by William Finn with a book by Rachel Feldman. It is from material conceived by Rebecca Feldman. They have given the theater world a gem. Forge Theatre made the most of it.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY
Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
Directed by Dru Ullery
Musical Direction by Denise Wisneski
Choreography by Renee Schultz
September 10 – October 2, 2010
241 First Avenue