Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
Clio Cast and Crew opened the 2016 portion of their season with a joyful little treat – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The energetic cast got it started with the title song and kept going from there.
The simple set was well used from all exits and featured a delightfully painted rolling bleacher section that housed the Bee spelling contestants.
A crowd favorite was the selection of “random” audience members pulled up on stage to participate in the spell down. Of course they were the first to be ejected – leading to the amusing song “Good-bye” as they were escorted off and given a juice box.
The featured players were from all walks of life – from the lonely to the geeky to the Boy Scout, the loudmouth the shy one and the smarty-pants. Everyone created/grew their characters very well from their speeches and songs to the costumes and tics including a magic foot!
Some of the notable performances came from Steve Yerian as William Barfee with strong vocals and wonderful characterization. Also strong vocally were Samantha Campbell as Marcy Park and Tarah Smith as Olive Ostrovsky. Others had strong moments Rachael Hildreth as Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre and Griffin Grabowski as Leaf Coneybear. The cast was at its strongest as an ensemble.
Non- singing (except for the ensemble) roles were filled by Judie Santo as Rona Lisa Peretti; the host Timothy Ruwart as Vice Principal Douglas Panch presented a very strong character with an excellent backstory and just the right amount of bluster as the spelling master; Duane Dunckel played Mitch Mahoney – the contestant comforter that lead players off with his beefy tattooed arms – coveted by Rona; Dennis Spence Jr. made several appearances – most notably as Jesus.
The first act was filled with energy and zipped right along. The second act started strong with “My Erection”, flagged a bit in the middle, but finished strong. The songs were all zippy and entertaining. One could tell the cast was truly committed to this show.
Now for some pet peeves. The curtain was set for 7:00 p.m. but delayed until about 7:12. This is becoming quite the slippery slope. A venue – whether cinema or theatre owes it to the customers that arrive on time to get the show started on time. The survival of civilization demands this.
Additionally – I’m not a big fan of microphoning a stage. Clio is small and intimate and everyone showed the ability to produce volume. I believe microphones overwhelm some, cause technical difficulties and become a crutch for performers. One such performer – I won’t name names – lost all volume and understanding even while standing at the center microphone. I wondered if it was even on.
In several spots players wandered out of their light and were lost to the audience. And a couple of times players laid or sat on the stage floor obscuring their sight from most of the audience.
The music was recorded – but I think it was too loud. At times it overwhelmed the players and should have been adjusted.
Overall, this was a fine night of community theatre. It was a joyful romp through our childhoods complete with all our insecurities and foibles.
Directed by Stevie Visser, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a special fund raiser for the Theatre and will run this week-end only. Find some time between sporting events to support local theater and enjoy this fine show.
Contact Theatre 57 at (810) 687-2588 for show times.