Lambs Players Puts Spelling to the Test in Coronado with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"

A Dynamic Production with Plenty of Laughs and an Inside Look into Kids Perspectives 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo LAMBS Players Theatre
Some theatre pieces get tucked in the mix or shuffled and sometimes overlooked. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one of those gems that just sparkles. With a book by Rachel Sheinkin, music, and lyrics by William Finn, conceived by Rebecca Feldman with additional material by Jay Reiss, and directed by LAMB'S producing artistic director Robert Smyth, Coronado has been bit by the spelling bee that will challenge and entertain audiences until mid-August.

The story is set in New York's Putnam Valley, where six unique teenagers compete in the county's spelling bee moderated by former bee champion, Rona Lisa Peretti (Nancy Snow Carr) and official word pronouncer, Douglas Panch (Geno Carr). Mitch Mahoney (Bryan Barbarin) an ex-convict, doing his community service with the Bee, is the official comfort counselor and hands out juice boxes to losing students. The competitors are made up of Schwartzy (Megan Carmitchel) who is the proud daughter of two gay dads, Olive Ostrovsky (Caitie Grady) a reading prodigy who loves her dictionary, her faithful companion during the loneliness she endures because of checked-out parents, Marcy Park (Isabella Pruter), the poster child for the Over-Achieving Asian who placed ninth in the previous year's nationals. Boy Scout and the Twenty-Fourth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee champion Chip Tolentino (Ernst Sauceda), is coming back to defend his championship, William Barfée (Omri Schein) whose last name is usually mispronounced, is a returning finalist who had to abandon the competition due to a peanut allergy. He also has a "magic foot" technique that helps him spell correctly and, Leaf Coneybear (Ben van Diepen), a homeschooled student with a large family of hippies who channels a hand puppet to spell. 

The competition begins and is a heck of a time with challenging words, recurring lisps, and fierce edges that bring out character and interesting confessions. You would think the mix of the six students is stimulating enough... at the top of the show, four real audience members are chosen to also compete in the Bee. -Man that takes courage-. Nancy Snow Carr has impeccable comedic timing and creative improv skills as she comes up with hilarious descriptions on the spot for the guest spellers that just bring laughing tears out. She also picks up interaction with the audience and any sneeze, cough, or bathroom break that comes about. Geno Carr teams up with Snow Carr and the real-life married couple sometimes cannot contain the laughs themselves as the show is giving and the momentum is being savored! All the cast is amazing with the onstage audience members but the Carrs take the -spelling- cake.

Bryan Barbarin completes the stage left trio with the Carrs adding charm and a lot of laughs while going from former convict to a holy guest appearance. 

Robert Smyth's direction makes for a well-matched and balanced cast having every actor give fresh and engaging angles to their characters that lend an inside look into each kid's life and what some of their struggles may look like from bullying, helicopter parents, continuing the cultural legacy, abandonment, etc. This is the heart of the story, as kids have their own strains and pandemoniums in their ecosystem regardless of age or responsibility. 

Megan Carmitchel's Schwartzy brings the pigtailed sass to the gym floor with Mike Buckley's authentic design that would even send that imaginary gym smell to my head or the sneaker screeching from a school game (if you know you know). Carmitchel also delivers great vocals that harmonize beautifully with Caitie Grady, Isabella Pruter, and Nancy Snow Carr who belted out those high strong falsettos in songs like "My Friend, the Dictionary" and "My Favorite Moment of the Bee" played live with Ben Read as the band leader who also played the keyboard, David Rumpley in percussion, Diana Elledge in Cello and Stefanie Schmitz in woodwinds, under G. Scott Lacy's musical direction that made for a great sounding song list nicely choreographed by Colleen Kollar Smith which included each of the characters mannerisms and moves in the choreo solidifying the framework. Jemima Dutra's costume design was on point with pink overalls, sneakers, checkered uniforms, and of course, tie-dye!  

Caitie Grady made me feel for Olive and her resilience. Marcy Park delivers a wonderfully stoic, practically nonexpressive Isabella. Ben van Diepen is dynamic and a good stage team player as he interacted and guided the guest spellers throughout their performances as with his co-spellers. I would share a piece of my mind with Leaf's parents tbh. Ernst Sauceda as the precocious and eager Chip Tolentino sings, dances, and runs up and down the theatre also interacting with the audience adding a nice layer to the experience. Omri Schein takes his time to articulate the snotty, phlegmmie William Barfée from the tone, the breathing, and the spelling giving a great delivery. 

The phrase might be cheesy and even tired or worn-out but there is no weak link in this cast! The one-act, no intermission piece is lively with amazing rhythm, the improvs are hilarious and the wrapping of the true message is strongly present. 

This show should not be missed and there are plenty of opportunities, as it has a nice, long run going until August 18. For performance times and ticket prices please click here

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