I must admit from the very onset, I am not a” spelling bee” person. I never did well in them, never watched them on TV and hated when we were sent to the assembly hall to witness our school spelling bee ( or even worse, a regional contest), but after viewing my 7th rendition of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, now onstage at Theatre At The Center in beautiful Munster, Indiana ( just a hop skip and a jump from Chicago’s “Loop”), I will tell you that there is something “special” about what the show means to audiences. It is NOT “just” a “spelling Bee”, but in fact, how individuals , who for the most part have no friends, or for that matter lives, can overcome the family pressure to WIN over everything and become much more humanized, during the course of a one day event.
The story involves us in the lives of six young people who have made it to the finals for a chance to win the special trophy and a small stipend towards their college fund. All six of these youngsters have been raised under the assumption that winning is everything, but during the course of this afternoon’s experience, each becomes a deeper person who learns to accept the actual fact that coming in second is not failing. Those who are familiar with the theater in Munster know that it is a semi-circle seating area with a stage that is almost round, so the set (Inseung Park) while resembling a gymnasium, has to be somewhat roundish and we do lose some of the intimacy with the characters as they are further back then in most productions. Director David Perkovich manages to work around this by having some of the players come off the stage and even comment about the round gym. On a technical mention, the costumes (Brenda Winstead) do follow the look as I have seen in previous productions and the lighting(Denise Karczewski) works well as does the sound(Barry G. Funderburg). Bridget Earnshaw handles the many props with great ease, but in reality, what makes this play work is the actors who grace the stage and the director who makes each moment one that is special.
The cast is led by the wonderful Cory Goodrich as Rona Perretti, our modrator and previous winner of the award herself). As always , Ms Goodrich is a delight to watch and listen to. Vice Principal Panch , the other “adult” who reads the words is deftly handled by Jake Mahler ( a newcomer to this theater, but a name that we recognize). The other cast member- the six contestants are as follows:
Chip Tolentino- the sort of perfect student- The very funny Frank J. Paul
Leaf Coneybear- the weirdo, who gets in the Bee, because no one else from his school is able to attend- Patrick Tierney
Marcy Park- who can do no wrong- EVER- the agile and funny Rose Le Tran
William Barfee – he with the magic foot- a superb job by Jonathan Wagner
Olive Ostrovsky – the new kid from a somewhat broken home- a standout performance by Nicole Miller ( who also is the Choreographer of this production).Bear Bellinger is the final cast member who brings us some great characters.
There are also four audience members who sign up to be called onstage as contestants as well. At my performance, one of the four ladies that were called up was a top-notch speller. So good, in fact, that the first act could not end as usual. They had to give her more words until they stumped her ( at last) and she was given her juice box and escorted back to her seat.
This is a fun show with a cute, but hokey book by Rachel Sheinkin and some non memorable music/lyrics by William Finn. While the show is not one to write home about ( despite being a Tony Award Winner) it is a fun two hours and five minutes with a lesson for all to learn. I guess one might say that the highlights of this production are Chip’s Lament ( the act two starter, a very funny number, yet very adult) and the wonderful “Pas De Deux” duet by Mr.Wagner and Ms Miller. The show itself is a “hoot” and a great escape form the headlines of our everyday lives. A chance to just have some fun awaits you in Munster Indiana at The Theatre At The Center located at 1040 Ridge Road through August 18th with performances as follows:
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
There are some Thursday evening performances and a few Saturday 2″30 performances- check with the box office 219-836-3255 or online at www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com
Tickets range from $38-$42 ( a theatrical bargain) and there is plenty of free parking. The gas prices in Munster are also lower, so it is really worth the trip- lower gas prices, plenty of restaurants in the area, free parking and a fun show.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review-Round-Up and click at “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”