Spelling Bee Audience Review—Kylie Schultz

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.

William Barfée (Tim Beeckman Davis, right) with the the of the cast vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime.

William Barfée (Tim Beeckman Davis, right) with the the of the cast vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime.

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.

"The Spitfire Grill" Audience Review—Kylie Schultz

Lyric Arts’ 20th season is off to a fabulous start. Following the season premier’s rollicking comedy The Explorers Club, the season’s second show takes a lovely, more subdued tone with The Spitfire Grill.

Set in the fictional small town of Gilead, Wisconsin, this lovely musical follows the  story of released criminal Percy (Katharine Strom) as she attempts to start a new life in the town. In Gilead, Percy finds herself a job at the Spitfire Grill when aging owner Hannah (Martha Wigmore) begrudgingly takes her in. In time, Percy becomes acquainted and assessed by Gilead’s population including Effy (Shana Eisenberg), the nosy mailwoman, Joe (James Ehlenz), the town Sheriff, Caleb (Patrick Jones), Hannah’s controlling and unlikeable nephew, and befriends Caleb’s mousy wife, Shelby (Christy Jones).

The small town of Gilead has been slowly fading, and Percy learns that Hannah has wanted to sell the grill for years, but has been unable to. Percy suggests that Hannah raffle the grill off for $100, and with this, Percy becomes the center of a chain of events that illuminates and changes all in the small, quiet town.

Shoot the Moon! James Ehlenz, Martha Wigmore, & Katharine Strom (left to right) Photo credit: Michael Traynor

Shoot the Moon! James Ehlenz, Martha Wigmore, & Katharine Strom (left to right)
Photo credit: Michael Traynor

Set to a beautiful Americana soundtrack, The Spitfire Grill is soothing and melodic to the ear, but is also evocative. The idyllic town of Gilead both represents the myth of the small town, and the boon of the big city. There are many secrets in the town, longings to leave, unrest as the town slowly fades away, but it also has the bond of community, beauty, and restorative quiet that is longed for by many of the strangers that write in for the raffle of the Spitfire Grill and hope to win it if only to leave the lonely and disconnected cities they live in.

This is also a story of redemption, not only for Percy, who finds a place where she can truly be free of her past and find herself at home, but also for Hannah and Shelby, who face their misgivings and abuses and take charge of their lives. It’s a show about friendship, growth, empowerment, and freedom and Gilead represents all of these things in subtle ways for each character.

Beautifully performed by an extremely talented cast, The Spitfire Grill is another brilliant notch in Lyric Arts’ belt, and is a stunning example of the caliber and mastery of the performances to come in Lyric Arts’ 20th season and beyond.

Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.

"Young Frankenstein" Review - Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz
Kylie Schultz

As a Mel Brooks devotee and avid musical theater fan, I can say that I whole heartedly relished the day I saw Young Frankenstein when it opened on Broadway. I grew up annually quoting Young Frankenstein with my parents and can recall any moment from the movie at any time in any place. When I saw the musical, you can bet that I had the soundtrack that same night and listened to it on repeat for weeks. All that being said, Lyric Arts Anoka had a very fanatic fan of Young Frankenstein to impress this opening weekend.

And they did it.

Without a doubt, the show is excellent. Mel Brooks proved with The Producers that he writes a fantastic musical from an already brilliant movie, which can be tricky. For all who love to quote along with the movie, know every innuendo and schwanzstucker joke, Young Frankenstein the musical absolutely doesn’t lose its hilarity. In addition, you add catchy musical motifs and dance numbers which enhance the charm and keep a goofy smile plastered on your face the whole show.

I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing any show at Lyric Arts in the past, and that made seeing Young Frankenstein so much more impressive. When you’ve seen the show you’ll understand how much of a feat it is to put on. The music is difficult (cheers to Kyler Chase for perfecting “There Is Nothing Like the Brain), the set is intricate, and the choreography involves a lot of people tap dancing simultaneously. All of this is challenging, but expected, on Broadway, and is made all the more impressive when you consider that not one of the actors or crew of this show is paid. The cast of Young Frankenstein put on a show to rival that of a Broadway production, with a set design and technical crew as good as any theater production in the cities. Young Frankenstein has everything:  fantastic actors in leading roles, a dedicated and talented ensemble, an amazing crew, and all the innuendo you can handle with great music to sing it to.

I can’t say enough glowing things about this show and the hard work, dedication, and professionalism that were so clearly and eloquently put into it. I laughed, I cried from laughing, and I left wanting more. I will not only be attending this show twice, but look forward to seeing future shows as Lyric Arts Anoka has earned a special place in my heart.

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.