Reviews: Spelling Skills Challenged in Performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

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Published December 15, 2016
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The Montclarion
Montclair State students played characters who are supposed to be 10-13 years old. Photo by Babee Garcia
Montclair State students played characters who are supposed to be 10-13 years old. Photo by Babee Garcia

Montclair State students played characters who are supposed to be 10-13 years old.
Photo by Babee Garcia

Montclair State showed The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and two Montclarion writers, Babee Garcia and Carlie Madlinger, were at the show and have the details:

Review by Babee Garcia:

Imagine a room full of colorful characters, both within their personalities and wardrobe, whom outsmart each other in a spelling competition to take home the golden trophy and a $200 check towards his or her education. There is one champion at the end of the event, however, everyone realizes that they are all winners in their own special way.

With a full house, a surprise appearance from Jesus, and four volunteers picked at random to compete on the Spelling Bee stage, it was a hilarious two-hour show held at the L. Howard Fox Theater from Dec. 7-11.

“The overall message from “Spelling Bee” is growth and acceptance. The bee is comprised of a variety of characters who possess a variety of quirky characteristics. Most of the characters are age 10-13. We get to witness these characters grow in their own ways through the show as well as connect with, and accept the people and circumstances that are surrounding them,” said Robin Levine, director and choreographer of this peak performance/

Based on the book written by Rachel Sheinkin, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a Tony Award winning musical-comedy about six young participants, who share their life stories and explain why they are determined to claim victory in the contest. The six unique children that compete in the spelling bee are introduced by Rosa Lisa Perreti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, who recites the words and definitions in a witty way. Mitch Mahoney, a tough ex-con comfort counselor, escorts the losing kids out with a hug and juicebox.

A baseball player with puberty insecurities, an eccentric girl that speaks with a lisp, a boy with a “magical foot” that taps to spell out the words correctly, a female overachiever, an adorable girl with pig tails, as well as a lad wearing pizza socks and a green power ranger t-shirt are the six diverse youngsters fighting for success.

Ryan Kiernan, junior BFA Musical Theatre Major who plays “Leaf Coneybear,” enjoyed playing his part as a boy with multi-personality disorder.

“My character has taught me to keep my head up high even when things don’t work out. Leaf’s optimism is infectious, and I loved bringing that optimism home with me every night after rehearsals and performances.”

Kieran’s role kept receiving words relating to South American rodents throughout the evening.

According to Niki Metcalf, junior and Musical Theatre Major/American Sign Language studies minor who played “Olive,” was the first runner up in the Spelling Bee. Metcalf explained that she really couldn’t ask for a better cast or group of friends to share the stage with. Metcalf adds that her role has taught her “to focus more on the story rather than worrying about her skills.”

From the entertaining musical numbers to the vice principal and Rosa Lisa using each word in a clever manner in sentences, it was a never-ending roller coaster ride of laughter. The stage set-up was decorated with black and yellow balloons tied to books, as well as blue walls with bumble bee symbols to create the auditorium-like environment. The lighting illuminated and captured every moment so beautifully from slow-motion scenes to shining the spotlight on the talented cast.

Above all, the most exciting part from Montclair State’s Department of Theatre and Dance “25th Annual Spelling Bee” was the on-stage chemistry. The way the performers’ lines and mannerisms complimented one another seemed natural. It is evident that the entire cast and crew are gifted actors, and it would be an absolute delight to see them on Broadway.

Review by Carlie Madlinger:

“Aaaah whaaaat?” questioned junior BFA Musical Theatre major Ryan Kiernan’s character, Leaf Coneybear, after hearing the arduous words he was required to spell in Montclair State Universities production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

This comedic Broadway musical has been hitting stages across the world since 2004, and now it has made its way to Montclair State. The one-act musical revolves around six middle schoolers battling it out for the title of first place speller.

However, words are not the only thing that define these characters. Director Robert Levine says, “The words are merely the vehicle through which this show attracts and includes everyone. Each of us, regardless of spelling prowess, can connect and identify with this piece. Through it, we find and ponder love, family, individuality, knowledge, kindness, acceptance, and most of all, growth. The variety of characters and quirky characteristics they possess can find a way into anyone’s heart, and teach us something about ourselves along the way.”

On opening night, attendees were buzzing, leaving not one seat empty. This was my first Montclair State theatre experience so I was excited to see how the production would go and the students ability to perform. I was extremely impressed.

The actors in this production were phenomenal. Triple threats to say the least, they captivated the audience from the first note they sang to their final, “Good-bye.”

Marcy Park, an over-acheiver played by Abigail Matsusaka, proved that, “the best speller won’t necessarily win.” Matsusaka executed her character terrifically and exhibited her triple threat status as she did cart wheels across the stage, played the piano backwards and belted out her lyrics pitch perfectly.

By the end of this show, you will never forget the name William Barfée. Thomas Beebe transformed into the arrogant Barfée and gained his “magic foot”. Beebe’s ability to stay in character throughout the entire show was astonishing and his strategic movements enhanced his characters personality.

Dion Grier wowed the audience by playing not one, not two but three characters throughout the musical. Grier was able to demonstrate his vocal ability as Mitch Mahoney who was an inspirational component for the accompanying characters within the show.

The script made references to pop culture and even gave a shout out to North West. This production was very interactive as free snacks were tossed throughout the theatre. The characters found their way into the audience on numerous occasions, allowing those attendees who were not placed on stage to feel as if they were still part of the musical.

Overall this humorous and heartwarming musical left people laughing out of their seats and gave many a new perception on life.

With an exceedingly talented cast, magnificent production and a chance to see if you would take home the title as the “best speller,” this play is a must see.

“I loved it. It was really funny,” said Rachel Rizzo a senior English major who was picked at random to be featured as a speller in the show.

Bailee Gilbert a senior Theatre Studies major wasn’t originally a fan of the music from the show however, after tonight, her opinions have changed. Laughing, Gilbert said, “My favorite part of the show was probably when McGregor Daltons character, Chip, sang, ‘My Unfortunate Erection’, it was super funny.”

Natalie Hopson, a family friend of Niki Metcalf said, “She was amazing, I completely believed that she was Olive. The entire cast was incredibly talented. I enjoyed the whole thing from beginning to end and I was blown away by the voices and the talent and the professionalism of the show.”

“My favorite part was when the character Logianne Schwartzandgrubenniere, played by Sarah Libby, would have flashbacks with her fathers, I thought they were really funny,” said Lauren Carroll, a junior double majoring in Animation Illustration and Theatre Production and Design, who also participated in the scenic painting for the show. “The actors are really good at improv so it really helped with anything that came across their plate. They were able to handle it.”

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