“Syzygy, S-Y-Z-Y-G-Y, syzygy,” was Rona Lisa Perretti’s winning word in the Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Years later, now that she hosts the spelling bee herself, she makes sure she doesn’t miss a moment to highlight her own victory. So begins the story of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The UTM Musical Theatre Club, new to UTM, presented the award-winning musical Thursday and Friday last week. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the Musical Theatre Club’s first production.
A diverse group of sixth graders arrive at the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee eager to win, but all for different reasons. Beautiful and shy Olive (Victoria Ridley) brings her only best friend—the dictionary—to the bee; audacious and hyperallergic William Barfee (Carmellina Anello) uses his “magic foot” to lead him to success; former champion Chip (Lucas Blakeley) struggles with his blooming puberty; overconfident Leaf (Derek Brockbank) wants to think he is smart enough to be a challenger; disappointed with her consistent success is Marcy (Lindsey Wu), the overachiever; and politically up-to-date Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Parnika Celly) only wants to impress her gay dads. With catchy, appealing, and engaging songs, each speller reveals their hopes, struggles, and passions as they make their way through the competition. The original score is by William Finn and the funny book is written by Rachel Sheinkin.
Director Joana Luchian made some smart choices in her direction. Transitions between the present scene and flashbacks can be tricky and can easily cause an audience to lose track of the scenes. Luchian plays around with the spotlight colours to indicate whether a scene was taking place in the past or present. Along with the “pandemonium” of the music, the vibrant lights added flavour and life to the performance. Because, as the show tells us, “Life is Pandemonium”, a song that definitely had me tapping my feet and dancing along on the inside.
Luchian couldn’t have had a better transition into the intermission than, “We will be taking a 20-minute break. There are snacks in the vending machine.” It was hilarious and got the whole crowd to burst into roars of laughter.
Perretti (Kathryn Beisel) made an impression on me. Having held the previous position of winner of the spelling bee and now conducting it as a host for many years, she shows her overloaded passion and dedication to the bee. With her crisp clothes, upright posture and little-miss-perfect attitude, Perretti is the ideal candidate to take part in a spelling bee. At least, that’s what she thinks.
Every actor brought the production to life in a way that could be felt by the mark each student leaves on you. I enjoyed the witty and quirky remarks of vice-principal Douglas Panch (Mussie Berhane) and Dinah Johnjules’ smooth doubling of characters as she swiftly went from being Leaf’s mom to being Olive’s mom and singing in her melodic voice.
The eccentric character of Leaf Coneybear stood out to me the most and every remark had me crying of laughter.
In one of the final scenes, William Barfee is declared the champion of the spelling bee after facing off with Olive Ostrovsky. Between the two, a subtle love interest arises.
It is evident that the takeaway from the production is to never underestimate anyone or judge their ability by appearance. Nothing is impossible—you just have to try before demeaning your ability.