A Cast Full of Champions: SPELLING BEE at The Eagle Theatre

by Jason D. Smith

Members of the cast of The Eagle Theatre’s production of SPELLING BEE. (Photo courtesy of The Eagle Theatre)

The Eagle Theatre’s production of the Tony Award winning musical THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE with music and lyrics by William Finn and Book by Rachel Sheinkin, directed by Ted Wioncek, III in Hammonton, NJ is a must see for any theatre-goer. Filled with comedic quips, heart-wrenching songs, and chaotic moments, the show covers a wide spectrum of theatrical genres.

SPELLING BEE does not disappoint. The show is a two act musical comedy with a fifteen minute intermission and centers on a fictional spelling bee set in a fictional Putnam Valley Middle School. Six eccentric adolescents compete in the Bee, run by three equally interesting grown-ups. The show is packed with a cast of talented and highly energetic actors each having their moment to shine.

Right from the start of the show I was enamored by Rona Lisa Peretti’s (Maria Panvini) depth of character and powerhouse voice. It’s the little nuances and facial expressions that set Panvini apart from your average actress. All of the actors were extremely talented but especially William Barfée (Kevin Hurley) appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association. Hurley epitomized the role of William Barfée while making it his own with subtle unique additions. Will Baez, who portrayed Leaf Coneybear, was consistently in character, always distracted, moving, and messing with other spellers. My only problem, if you could even call it that, was in expecting a larger or more profound ‘daze’ when Leaf spelled. Beyond the characterization, however, was a rich and fulfilling voice that was quite captivating. I would be remiss if I did not mention the pure, raw talent exhibited by Justina Ercole playing Olive Ostrovsky especially during “The I Love You Song.” This young lady can sing and she does so very well.

The set might have been simplistic, but it had a childish feel to it that meshed nicely with the theme and foundation of the show. What was truly remarkable, however, was the lighting design throughout the production. Never have I seen such smooth transitions connected with such a wide variety of light plots. Lighting Designer Chris Miller knows what he is doing. At first glance there is a piano on stage and I immediately assumed the show would be accompanied by a pianist on stage, I was wrong. That is another first for me, observing a show completely accompanied by musicians located underneath the stage on the floor below. Kudos to Musical Director Tom Abruzzo on a job well done, as well as, Sound Designer and Technical Director Kevin Rodio for being able to pump such lovely accompaniment into the audience while keeping it crisp and clean as if they were in the same room.

SPELLING BEE, being the comedic musical it is, does not offer a wide variety of dancing within the show; that being said however, the moments that were choreographed were unique and original, especially the exchange between Olive and William before the Finale. There were only a handful of moments when an actor was out of sync dancing in a number and I would hardly call it a distraction.

Wioncek combined exquisitely talented actors and technical staff to put together a superb production. I strongly recommend this production. You won’t be sorry. I look forward to seeing my next Eagle Theatre production.

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Directed by Ted Wioncek, III
October 5-7, 11-14, 18-20, 2012
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton NJ 08037

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1 comment

Pati October 6, 2012 - 8:28 pm


This was a very enjoyable review. You covered all the componets of the show, the cast and creative team very objectively and to the point. It was a refreshing change from giving YOUR history or knowledge of the production and comparing this to other productions YOU’VE seen or “why you missed opening night”. Really, an objective reviewer comments should be limited to the show you have just seen offering constructive criticism. Nice work!


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