Spelling bee musical scores serious laughs

The cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” performs “Pandemonium” during Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. The show will run at the Ring Theatre through Oct. 4. During the production, four audience members were called onstage to participate. Giancarlo Falconi // Staff Photographer

Flabbergasting. Definition: Amazing, dazing one with shock and wonder.  Used in a sentence: “‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ playing at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, is positively flabbergasting,” or so audiences will say after viewing the delightful, witty and spectacularly performed production.

The show, chronicling the emotionally charged, yet completely superfluous spelling bee, crackles with a sparkling wit and is brought to life immediately upon entry to the theater, with a shocking amount of detail work going into the relatively simple set of a school gymnasium.

Indeed, one of the highlights of the evening was the cast’s gentle ribbing of the audience participants. Alumnus Michael Delgado, clad in beige, grey and chunky glasses, was introduced as the “founder of the Putnam Elementary future hipsters,” and having “a deathly fear of bright colors.” Just like the cast, audience members were eventually given a word they could not spell, eliminated, and then sent off with a hug and a juice box.

The script speeds along and accomplishes the herculean task of getting the audience to care about the outcome of the bee, while simultaneously mocking it for having such absurd emotional stakes.

Those emotional stakes carry real weight, though, when carried by a fantastic cast. Sophomore Rachel Bonet, who plays Olive Ostrovsky, squeezed pathos out of every line, while junior Brian Reiff’s eccentric and unstable Vice Principal Panch had the audience in peals of laughter. Panch’s snarky deliveries of the “used in a sentence” examples for each word had the audience cackling.

Junior Brian Perrault’s homeschooled eccentric, Leaf Coneybear, is played with such delightful exuberance and sweet naivete that the audience can’t help but root for him. Perrault’s comedic timing also excelled, turning his trance-like recitation of words into one of the evenings best recurring gags.

Sophomore Jayne Ng, on the other hand, provided the perfect mix of severity and vulnerability as perfectionist Marcy Park.  Her exasperated and desperate one-woman talent show in the number “I Speak Six Languages” was stunning, and her later “Epiphany” left the audience clamoring for more of her unique and versatile style.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a delightful show with comedy that will a leave college audience roaring. Although it is a musical, there is no need to be intimidated because the plot and material are easy to follow. A stellar script shows off the wide talents of a first-rate cast, and the solid production design ties it all together.

While the audience did not have to suffer the soul-crushing ding of the bell marking an incorrect word, every member was crushed to have to go home.​


WHAT: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 29 through Oct. 4

WHERE: Jerry Herman Ring Theatre

Admission is $10 for students and free on Tuesday