King’s Players’ The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the Catalina Wine Mixer of stage productions. A night with limitless possibilities, the perfect showcase for one to live up to the promise within oneself; whether one be a forty-something aspiring event planner, or a twelve-year-old speller with a dream. Fantasies will be shattered; love will be found and lost, purpose discovered, hopes fulfilled, all due to the goddamn 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Director Hailey Hill and the entire production staff and cast have crafted an uproarious and well rounded show, one which provides unrelenting laughter and sublime musical numbers. The eponymous spelling bee is contested between a group of elementary school students, and a handful of guests from the audience. The Bee is an unpredictable affair, where one must be prepared to spell anything from “syzygy” to “cow,” and vast knowledge of South American rodents is a definite plus. Overseen by champion speller (and powerhouse singer) Rona Lisa Peretti (Christine Rabey) and the wry and hilariously monotonous Vice Principal Panch (Wyatt Merkley), The Bee is full of generic characters, and yet all are able to surpass convention to create truly memorable performances.
Patrick Avery-Kenny shines as William Barfee (that’s pronounced Bar-fay, accent aigu) an awkward scientist with a magic knee-high-sock-covered foot. Leaf Coneybear (Robert Popoli) is a scene-stealer if there ever was one. Popoli brings Leaf to life in a totally outrageous and surprisingly emotional way, and Leaf is the personification of The Bee’s limitless possibilities. Chip Tolentino (Stephen Ingram) displays wonderfully that even an unwelcome visitor can be a life changing experience.
The supporting characters all have at least one moment to shine, and no one misses theirs. Sam Boer’s Jesus is one of the most memorable parts of the show, and arguably the most poignant is Mitch Mahoney (Jack Phoenix) an ex-con who wants nothing more than to comfort the spellers with a song and a juice box. The music ensemble lead by Ben Leibovitz provides a tempered and atmospheric setting, particularly during the several montages.
The female contestants are all well developed, and they provide the visceral core to the otherwise chimerical production. Olive Ostrovsky (Nikki Pasqualini), Marcy Park (Bernadette James), and Logainne Schwartzy (Sammy Koladich) all spell as though they want to get away from something they are desperate never to go back to. They’re all extremely driven to win, whether from parental pressure or self-determination. They’re all-business (or at least mostly-business) and all three find what they’re looking for through the magic of The Bee. You might too if you go to see this production.