Following their critically-acclaimed production of Loving Repeating in 2015, Vic Theatre Company has returned to the musical stage with the super-funny, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Southbank Theatre.
William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin’s Tony Award-winning musical follows an eclectic group of six adolescents on their journey to realise their dream of becoming a spelling bee champion! Fraught with the woes of puberty, these youngsters struggle to become the best, but ultimately learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.
Under Benjamin Giraud’s deft direction, this smart and thoroughly engaging musical win its audience over from the get go. Featuring some catchy tunes, and a superb cast, Spelling Bee on the whole works, because we can relate somehow, to these quirky and intense, yet charming cast of characters who demonstrate that by standing out, you can fit in at the same time.
The strength lies in Spelling Bee‘s cast with each bring well-rounded performances and characterisations to the stage. Rona Lisa Perretti (Rebecca Moore) leads us into the world of ‘spelling bee’ as she sets up for this year’s competition. Having spelt ‘sygyzy’ correctly – she is a past winner of the ‘bee’. Vice Principal Douglas Panch (David Spencer) is the voice of the bee, providing funny, if not useful, definitions and sentences to assist the contestants in correctly spelling the words.
Marcy Park (Teresa Duddy) is an unwilling overachiever, Chip Tolentino (James Coley) the past year’s champion, protests his early elimination – the result of an uncontrollable adolescent urge, while Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere’s (Sage Douglas) gay dads press her to be super-competitive.
Then there’s William Barfee (Andrew Hondromatidis) who spells out the words with his foot, Olive Ostrovsky (Caitlin Mathieson) who yearns for approval from her absent parents, and the terrific Leaf Coneybear (Henry Brett) whose siblings think he’s dumb, sings his anthem I’m Not That Smart. Rounding out the cast is Mitch Mahoney (Matt Heywood), a non-contestant and ‘comfort counsellor’ to the eliminated, who gets his moment to ‘shine’.
Making full use of the Lawler stage, William Bobbie Stewart’s design is a typical representation of an all-American school gymnasium, resplendent in team banners and multi-coloured bunting galore. Trevor Jones’ five-piece on-stage band provides a balanced musical accompaniment, driving Finn’s character specific score, whilst moving the story along.
The inclusion of four audience volunteers, provides some amusing, and at times unpredictable moments. Only now-and-then does the pace suffer – and one questions the need for an interval, as Act Two took a bit of time to warm up and get going again. With some fabulous songs, and comedic moments featuring the words, their definitions and their use in a sentence together, combined with the quirky personalities of each character, makes Spelling Bee an honest and playful romp.
Director: Benjamin Giraud Featuring: Henry Brett, James Coley, Sage Douglas, Teresa Duddy, Matt Heyward, Andrew Hondromatidis, Caitlin Mathieson, Rebecca Moore, Riley Nottingham, David Spencer Musical Director: Trevor Jones Choreographer: Bernie Bernard Set Designer: William Bobbie Stuart Costume Designer: Zoe Felice Sound Designer: Marcello Lo Ricco Producer: Glenn Ferguson
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The Lawler – Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank (Melbourne)
Performance: Friday 1 April 2016 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 April 2016
Bookings: (03) 8688 0800 or online at: www.mtc.com.au
For more information, visit: www.victheatrecompany.com for details.
Image: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Cast – photo by James Terry