25th Annual…Spelling Bee: The Villagers Theater
Rona Perretti – Christina Ryan
Olive Ostrovsky – Krissy Daniels
Marcy Park – Maleesa Lamatina
Logainne SchwarzandGrubeniere – Ali Gleason
Leaf Coneybear – Jason Gillis
William Barfee – Bryan Murray
Chip Tolentino – Joseph Nelan
Mitch Mahoney – Lyle Dungee
Vice-Principal Doug Panch – Kris Longwell
Leaf Coneybear makes his own clothes, is the posterchild for Attention Deficit Disorder, and maintains a heightened cheerful disposition despite the challenges he faces as the underdog of the competition. Marcy Park, excelling at every task she encounters, “gets no real enjoyment” from her multitude of successes. Running the gamut from one extreme to the other, the idiosyncrasies of all of the characters within The Villagers Theater’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling bee come to life, clash, and conjoin throughout the hilarious competition.
One cannot experience this production without immediately noting the precise characterization delivered by Bryan Murray as William Barfee (rhymes with parfait). Very little could distinguish this regional production version of the toady, smug, yet suprisingly charming William from its original Broadway counterpart (orginally played by 2005 Tony Award winner, Dan Folger). Using his inigmatic “magic foot” to spell, the magic transfers easily into laughter every time this overcompensating character approaches the microphone.
In stark contrast to Barfee’s obtrusive outbursts, Olive Ostrovsky (Krissy Daniels) reatins her demure composure throught the duration of the competition, despite the lack of support from her obviously missing parents. Unfortunately for Ms. Daniels, a multitude of her plot points were obscured or lost throughout the show due to complete inaudibility from the back of the house. I have no doubt that the meek, mousy Olive was played with selected consistency; however, the sound system failed to carry her through to the back aisle. Luckily, the sound system was sorted in time for her most poignant moment during “I Love You Song”, where her soaring, melodious voice laments her absent mother and broken family.
In quick succession, each of the characters share their own inner monolouge with the audience as the bee’s competitors fall away one at a time. Chip Tolentino (Joseph Nelan) is the first up for elimination, focusing his energy on Leaf’s sister and her “fuzzy sweater”. However, the character later returns with PTA confections which he showers over the audience, cursing his resulting protuberance in the song “My Unfortunate Erection”. Next to fall is the unwaveringly positive Leaf Coneybear (Jason Gillis), who realizes, despite his loss, that he is imperviously undefeatable. Unfortunately, Jason’s vocal chops occassionally do not live up to the character’s imperviousness. Some of his higher pitches, specifically in ‘I’m Not Smart’ and its subsequent reprise, sustained dangerously under the mark. While his background antics made of for some of the flat vocals, Leaf Coneybear ends up seeming defeated, not by spelling, but by the complex William Finn score.
Marcy Park (Maleesa Lamatina), tired of maintaining the perfect persona, eliminates herself after demonstrating, with complete unimpressed dead pan, all of her skills in ‘I Speak Six Languages’. Down to three, with the most likely competitor eliminated, Logainne SchwarzandGrubeniere (Ali Gleason), the lisping, pressured yet precocious youngest competitor with two dads, buckles under the stress of her own complex overthinking. Ali, a rival for Krissy Daniels in vocal skill, squeezes out a vividly developed winner, despite the character’s epic loss.
The narration and thrust behind the show’s competition can be attributed to the final three adult characters in Putnam County. Doug Panch (Kris Longwell), Mitch Mahoney (Lyle Dungee), and Rona Peretti (Christina Ryan) lead both the children and the audience through the raucous book by Rachel Sheinkin. While each of the trio have genuine moments and sincerely admirable singing capability, compared with the puckish and powerful performance of the student body,the adult characters simply lend support to the remainder of the cast.
Overall, with the technical elements being the only reason to altogether avoid, I highly recommend spending an evening in the front row of the Villagers Theater for their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
See a video of “Life Is Pandemonim” on nj-onstage.tv
As an ensemble show, where nearly every character obtains at least one moment to take center stage, the highlights were encapsulated in every solo. The simple quirks and disparity therein are clearly defined, allowing the comedy to land without seeming effort.
The weakest link in the chain for this production never even sets foot on the stage. The sound system, in all its appalling, squelching, squeeking, popping, and frequent absence, severely detract from the show for anyone beyond the 5th row.
Obtain a seat near the front of the house to avoid the audio issues, and the overwhlmingly hilarious talent will have you delightfully doubled over. For those with weak bladders, bring your Depends.