25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by Friends Select School in Philadelphia, PA.
November 16, 2015
Review submitted by Gina Prince of Upper Darby High School
Tensions were high in the gymnasium of the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, for the best speller doesn’t always win.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn, tells a story of the adventures of spelling and the ongoing struggles in the lives of quirky elementary and middle school scholars, guided by outrageous and vibrant adults and the assistance of the lucky chosen audience members. This outlandishly comedic musical had a 2005 Tony Nomination for Best Book of a musical and a 2005 Drama Desk Nomination for Outstanding New Musical.
Friends Select School’s cast was very spirited as they displayed their hard work and efforts. A highlight of the production was “Pandemonium,” which presented the cast’s best energy and most entertaining musical number.
Alex Giganti (Chip Tolentino) carried the entire performance with his astounding vocals ultimately filling the complete house. He was captivating to watch due to his natural stage presence and comedic timing. His voice stood out even in ensemble driven numbers due to the strength and technique behind it. Additionally, he was a very responsible and prepared actor throughout each scene and musical number even when the spotlight wasn’t on him.
Isaac Riley-Wasserman (Leaf Coneybear), Drew Kaplan (William Barfee), and Ben Vlam (Vice Principle Douglas Panch) had their fair share of laughs and quirkiness that was nicely portrayed with good timing. Emily Augenbraun (Rona Lisa Perretti/Olive’s Mom) was consistently energetic and really shined with Alex Giganti (Chip/Olive’s Dad) in “The I Love You Song.” Some actors and musical numbers needed some fine tuning with harmonies, and actor projection could have been improved so that all jokes could be heard. Nevertheless, the cast did a great job of brightening up the stage with their love of theatre and heart behind it.
The Friends Select Orchestra did a commendable job of accompanying the actors in difficult and challenging music and never failed to liven up the production. They were most definitely essential to success of the musical as a whole.
Friends Select School’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee certainly displayed the cast and pit’s hard work and passion until “The Last Goodbye.”
Review by: Anna Deeg of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a show of endearing quirks, eloquent articulation, and countless laughs. Friend Select School’s production of this comical show was an endearing mélange of pandemonium, goodbyes, and sophisticated words.
The musical follows the spelling bee at Putnam Valley Middle School – specifically featuring the backstories, spelling techniques, and amusing antics of six adolescent contestants. William Barfee (Drew Kaplan) flaunted his fascinating spelling feet, along with boundless enthusiasm and adept acting. Logainne Schwarzengrubenniere (Lydia Shaw) was a doe-eyed spelling machine. Marcy Park (Nola Latty) competently captured an over-achieving perfectionist.
Olive Ostrovsky (Madeline Vlam) perfectly encapsulated the idiosyncrasies of a timid, dictionary-loving teenager. Leaf Coneybear (Isaac Riley-Wasserman) lacked confidence in his spelling abilities, but radiated with confidence in his singing and body language. Chip Tolentino (Alex Giganti) captivated the stage with his endless energy and strong vocal presence, maintaining his dynamic character for every moment of the show.
Rona Lisa Perretti (Emily Augenbraun) presided over the group of misfit spelling masters, dominating the stage with her physicality and vocal ability. Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Ben Vlam) and Mitch Mahoney (Paige Allison Bethel-Purnell) both added humor to the cut-throat spelling competition. The hilarity increased with featured moments – such as the dance moves of Logainne’s two dads and the bickering of the entire Coneybear family.
The dynamic interaction between all members of the spelling bee ensemble brought an unparalleled animation to the entire show. They worked as one unit, showcased in the beautiful harmonies of “The I Love You Song” and in the synchronized choreography of “Magic Foot.” The technical aspects of the show mirrored this synchronization with expert mood lighting and a set reminiscent of middle school auditoriums nationwide.
Though they bid adieu with a “Last Goodbye”, Friend Select School’s charming performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee left the audience wanting even more hilarious mayhem and advanced spellings.