Go see this musical! Go see it right now before it’s too late and you miss out on what I’m sure will be one of the most entertaining performances of 2016.
I had to open with such a demand to accurately convey the serious hilarity and outstanding artistry that make this show one of the best I’ve seen at Lyric Arts.
Unlike many of Lyric Arts’ previous shows, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee does not have a large, intricately beautiful set or a whole company of recognizable Lyric Arts regulars. But in classic Lyric Arts' style, Putnam’s bombastic characters are brought to life through top notch directing, flawless musical direction, and an enormously talented (and mostly freshly-debuted) cast of actors who keep the performance so lively you’ll forget you’re not watching a real Spelling Bee.
If you’ve never heard of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, you’re in for a humorous awakening. This highly entertaining musical chronicles the lives of six Putnam County students as they compete in the most exciting 25th Annual Spelling Bee. The Bee is hosted by 3rd Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee winner, Rona Lisa Peretti (Lexi Harper) and formerly disgraced, but “in a better place now”, word pronouncer and Vice Principal, Douglas Panch (Rick Wyman). To comfort the students throughout the competition is “comfort counselor” Mitch Mahoney (Daniel Vinitsky), who sees each student off with a tough-love hug and a juice box as part of his court-mandated community service.
As the Bee commences we meet the students and get joyous glimpses into their colorful lives. Charlito “Chip” Tolentino (Matthew Berdahl) is last year’s winner, with the confidence to match, until he loses his… resolve *ahem* when distracted by Marigold Coneybear in the audience. Olive Ostrovsky (Anna Larranaga) is a quirky, upbeat girl who is desperately trying to save a spot in the audience for her absent dad. William Barfée (Tim Davis), is no-nonsense and brilliantly self-assured in his unique spelling tactic, his Magic Foot. Perfectly overachieving Marcy Park (Alison Rigazio) is charming as she displays decorum and grace in the Bee, until she doesn’t. Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Callie Shroer) desperately wants to win lest disappoint America, or her overbearing fathers. And giddy, effervescent, delightfully distracted Leaf Coneybear (Kyle Szarzynski) is the Bee’s youngest contestant, homeschooled and hoping to prove he’s smarter than his siblings think he is.
Each student is a larger-than-life, spot-on example of who we all were as children—I was a Leaf Coneybear—and each backstory is reminiscent of the universal pains and joys that we all traversed growing up. It’s a musical that is as endearing as it is entertaining and as humbling as it is humorous, and simple in it’s complexity. Each performance was immaculate, and every character brought to life with perfect execution and thoughtful integrity. An impeccable cast, infectious score, charming characters, just inappropriate enough humor, and strong direction by Zach Curtis all ensure that you really don’t want to miss this show.
Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.