By ALEXANDRA DRISSELL
For The Beachcomber
Your word is: wonderful. Definition, please? Inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration; extremely good; marvelous. Can you use it in a sentence? She enjoyed Vashon High School’s musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” so much that she wrote a review about how wonderful it was. W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L. That is correct!
The show begins with the house lights still on, making the audience feel they are actually attending the awkward and uncomfortable spelling bee at Putnam County Middle School instead of watching a musical. To involve the audience further, audience members are called on stage by staff member and past spelling bee champ, Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Kate Lande. The four volunteer audience members then sit on stage to compete in the spelling bee with six young characters.
Winner of two Tony Awards, including Best Book by Rachel Sheinkin, the musical follows an odd group of six adolescents passionately competing for the spelling championship. While spelling their way through complicated and oftentimes silly words, the tweens reveal their comedic but deeply authentic stories of their home lives while discovering deeper truths about themselves throughout the competition. The show is fast and witty, and the characters are both odd and endearing. Anyone who has gone through middle school immediately sees their own experience presented on stage.
One such experience, familiar not to all but at least half of the population, is that of Chip Tolentino, played by experienced actor Gabriel Dawson. Chip is the first to be eliminated and sings about the reason why he couldn’t focus on spelling the word “tittup” in the song at the top of Act II called “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament).”
Alex Guthery’s portrayal of Leaf Coneybear, a homeschooled hippie who makes his own clothes, had the audience in fits of giggles when he leapt around stage in a red cape and helmet, singing about his intellectual insecurities in the song “I’m Not That Smart” before freezing comically in a trance-like-state to perfectly spell a word and progress to the next round. Another equally comical actor was Dalton Kearns as the confident and indignant speller William Barfee using the “Magic Foot” method of spelling (you have to see it to believe it).
Young speller Logainne Schartzandgrubenniere, played by Maddi Deck, speaks with a lisp and is pushed to succeed at all costs, including sabotaging other participants, by her two moms, played by Brenna Bremen and Grace Hall. Speller Marcy Park, played by understudy Lucy Rogers, is serious and “all business” until Jesus, played by Karsten Kleitsch, rolls in on a skateboard to tell her she has control over her life. This comedic moment reveals Marcy’s inner desire to rebel, she purposely misspells camouflage and gleefully leaves the competition.
Contrasting the silliness of the rest of the ensemble is the small, shy, and sincere Olive Ostrovsky. Freshman Bright Shannon gives a stand out performance as Olive. At the beginning of the show, she almost disappears, but she quietly pushes forward revealing her heartbreaking story of abandonment. Bright wowed the audience most notably during “The I Love You Song,” leaving many in tears.
Director Stephen Floyd made a great choice in choosing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” For a high school show with a young cast of mostly freshman and sophomore students, “Spelling Bee” showcases new talent and gives young actors the freedom to be weird, to improvise, to be silly and sincere.
The shows greatest achievement was the dedication the actors had for their characters and the story. Youth acting is difficult; the teenage ego tends to get in the way. However, these actors fully became their character on stage, and the show was a success because of it.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be performed Fridays and Saturday, March 30 and 31, and April 6 and 7, at the high school theater.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors and are available at the VHS office, Vashon Bookshop and at the door. Tickets for the benefit shows on March 30 and April 7 are $20 for all seats.