The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Bzz’d
I’m sitting here, staring at my computer, with a brain roaring like a hornet nest. I can’t type fast enough to get thoughts out of my mind and onto the screen because I’ve just been blown away by Stillpointe Theatre’s hilarious The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Taking it further, I’ve sort of got a boner for what Stillpointe is doing right now, in general, what consistent rock stars!
Bee is hella simple. There’s this bunch of stereotypical kid characters: William Barfee, aka The Mega Geek, (Ryan Haase), Chip Tolentino, aka The Jock (Corey Hennessey), Leaf Coneybear, aka The Hippy Weirdo (Jon Kevin Lazarus), Marcy Park, aka Ms. Perfect (CiCi Monáe), Logainne “Schwarzy” SchwartzandGrubenierre, aka The Lispy One (Darius McKeiver) and, last (but not in any way least), Olive Ostrovsky, aka The “That Girl’s Parents Are Gonna Get Divorced” (Ashleigh Haddad). These cuties are competing in the annual spelling bee in Putnam County (wherever the hell that is) and, during the course of it, well, we get it alllll spelled out for us. Directors Amanda Rife and Corey Hennessey pack a punch: the results, the truth, the realness, the unedited made-for-real-life drama…of a spelling bee. The kid’s personalities are achingly real, and so (unfortunately) is how they are driven by their parents’ vicarious wishes. Bee is a total trip down memory lane for anybody who grew up in public school hell. It’s hysterical, it’s the T and, at times, it’s also terribly sad (Olive’s chalkboard scene had me bawling) how much these kids are put through. Some totally adult awkwardness comes from Zoe Kanter’s Rona “number one realtor” Lisa Peretti and her interactions with Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Danielle Robinette). Mr. Panch raaaally wants to take Ms. Peretti to Applebee’s (#YASTOTALSUPPORT) and see what’s beneath that sweet pencil skirt. Then there’s Mitch Mahoney (Lawrence D. Bryant IV), fresh from the clank. Mitch is the “Comfort Coach” who brings all the kiddies juice boxes and hugs when they get a word wrong. Brilliant moments ensue as kids play the parents of their opponents with awesomely fast character switches. They happen so quickly I won’t list them all here, but, trust, they’re stupendous. There’s audience interaction, but Rife and Hennessey make sure it’s not in the annoying or gimmick-for-gimmick-sake kinda way.
What’s most amazing about the show is how much fucking fun these actors are having playing these kids and the way it shows. I had such an amazing time along with all of them, the energy was totally infectious. Kanter has a fabulous voice and her wonderfully cringey moments with Robinette were great, as was the way that Rona really loves those kids. This might be the only time I get to see Corey Hennessey play the truly hunky Alpha Bro Male and I’m so down for it. He’s funny, he’s real, and he rocks out his quick-change side character switches. As of last night, I’m still Team Corey. McKeiver’s lisp was hilarious and I could still understand him while he sang, win! Also, I’m thankful for that weird tongue thing [Achilles, I asked you to review the show, not your last date. – TBO], it had me LOLing so hard I was in fucking tears. Jon Kevin Lazarus made me want to give him a giant hug and my childhood teddy bear, he had me rooting for Leaf the whole way (killin’ the costume, btw). God, CiCi Monae’s voice, grrrrl. La VOCA, toi, toi, toi! And the hair realness, I cannot even. Haddad’s Olive was so authentic that she’s like, the second person ever to make Mr. Achilles Feels cry in the audience [Lies. – TBO] And who doesn’t love Danielle Robinette’s over-the-top characters? They’re funny, they’re inspired and they’re here: get used to it! Also, I am game for man drag, baby, anytime. As for Lawrence D. Bryant IV’s Mitch Mahoney, well, I’d let him get me a juicebox every day of the week. All so good, across the board, I’m dying here.
Stillpointe’s new space, while tiny, had the perfect ratio of audience to stage without feeling crowded or desolate. Ryan Haase did a great job with a chalkboard-like treatment to the set. The lighting was so-so but it doesn’t matter, I could see everything just fine. The band (Stacey Antoine, Cody Raum and Joe Pipkin, Musical Direction by Stacey Antoine) was genuinely and superbly skilled with flawless vocal-to-instrumental balance. Stage Manager Kristen White kept the show moving, on target, and managed that house like it was her life’s work (and all with an impeccable smile).
THE BOTTOM LINE: Stillpointe’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one hell of a great ride. I talk a lot about how much I love Stillpointe, but it’s for good reason. They’re real, they’re passionate, with great voices and fabulous honesty, every single time. Is there an occasional missed note or off beat? Sure. But, the thing is, it doesn’t fucking matter because you’re having so much fucking fun.
Running at Stillpointe until March 18th.
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