“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” opened Nov. 9th at Performance Riverside to a surprisingly sparse audience. The 95 minute one act musical had everyone rolling as six kids, played by adults, competed for the trophy in their county spelling bee. The musical relied heavily on audience participation as it began with inviting four “late check-in spellers” from the audience to the stage. These audience members sat on stage during a majority of the performance and were asked to spell from time to time.
There wasn’t a weak link in all of the cast, but Leif Coneybear, played by Caleb Shaw, took the show for me. His believability as a squirly boy was astounding. Singing, “I’m Not That Smart,” he rolled around on the stage and pulled out his cape as though he could fly. When he was eliminated, the entire audience sighed to see such a lovable character leave. Other star performers were William Barfee, played by Matthew Ballestro, and Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere, played by Kim Dalton. Many of the cast members doubled as parents of the competitors appearing behind a scrim at the top of the stage. This part of the show was a bit distracting as members of the cast suddenly left the stage for no apparent reason.
Under the direction of David Lamoureux, the five piece orchestra filled the theater with impressive sound. Songs like “Pandomonium,” “The I Love You Song” and “Magic Foot” were stand-out showstoppers and the cast’s brilliant harmonies had audience members on their feet.
Though “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a musical about children in a spelling bee, there were slight mature themes throughout. Chip Tolentino, played by Matthew Malecki, is eliminated from the spelling bee because of his “unfortunate erection” and many definitions for the words were geared, hilariously, towards an adult audience.
Boasting a phenomenal set by Jason Graham, and under the direction of Matt Neves, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a delightful bit of entertainment that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a laugh. The show will continue to run through Nov. 18 at The Landis Auditorium with performances on Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Student tickets are $15 with valid ID.