Solana Beach, California---The North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach is smiling from ear to ear these days. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” that garnered two Tony’s and is making its San Diego Premiere (if you don’t count that other one at the Civic Theatre in 2006) has been E X T E N D E D twice now; once even before it opened.
“Bee’s” creators are William Finn (music and lyrics) and Rachel Sheinkin (book). It was conceived by Rebecca Feldman. On one of my trips to New York in early 2006 my friend and I were able to catch a matinee show of “Bee” at the Circle in the Square. The theatre was packed with youngsters (it’s probably rated PG13) and parents, no doubt some of whom might have been in a Spelling Bee or might be thinking of trying out for one. That the show was a success is evidenced by the fact that it won two Tony’s and lasted on Broadway for over 1,000 performances.
The show now up at Solana Beach and skillfully directed by Rick Simas is every bit as fun and challenging. His talented (Adult) cast is headed by Melinda Gilb as Rona Lisa Peretti the 3rd Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee champ, Phil Johnson as Douglas Panch, former Vice Principal of Putnam County High (and a nerd, I might add) and Robert Barry Fleming as Mitch Mahoney who is a community service comfort counselor/ex parolee who guides the losers off the stage, gives them a ‘box juice, helps with the Pledge and generally supports the show.
The youngsters represent a cross section of past winners now competing for the 25th Annual Bee. The Spellers include Chip Tolentino (Brandon Joel Maier), Logainne Schwarzandgrubenierre, she has two Dads (Sara Errington), Leaf Coneybear (Jacob Caltrider), William Barfee (Omri Schein), Marcy Parks (Cashae Monya) and Olive Ostrovsky (Nicole Werner). Four audience members (they sign up before the show) are chosen to compete as well. All the rules of a National Spelling Bee are the same and each ‘contestant’ vies for the trophy and an opportunity to make it to the State Spelling Bee. The audience members are usually the first to be disqualified after being given easy teaser words to spell like ‘MEXICO’.
Each of the contestants, somewhat misfits by any standard, has a story behind the person or as referenced by Gilb’s Peretti. Actually the side comments by her character are the funniest part of the show. The talent runs deep from the powerful Gilb to the very funny Chip’s Lament” by Brandon Joel Maier. Chip is the oversized Boy Scout vying for another Championship run for the gold, who has the misfortune of having well …see for yourself.
How each one comes to the right spelling is another story altogether. For example, Schein’s Barfee spells out the word with his right spelling foot before he gives the spelling into the mike. He looks pretty geeky with his black and white saddle shoes, longish hair, glasses, chronic stuffed nostril, slight lisp shorts held up with suspenders and one shirt tail hanging out (Peter Herman; costumes and wigs).
One of the gals spells out the words on her sleeve first and Errington’s Logianne’s lisp is so heavy that if you sit in the front row, take tissues. She is the standard bearer for the LGBT cause. Cashae’s Marcy Parks is supposed to be a once removed relative or the famous Rosa Parks with ATTITUDE! Its all fun, quite charming and, of course the place to be. Werner’s Ostrofsky is perfectly demure as the lonesome teen whose parents are too busy to send in the registration fee for her to compete. Caltrider’s Coneybear is a hoot as his eyes cross and he goes into a trance spelling the words. They are quite a group.
OK You try and compete!
Overall “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee” under Simas direction, Dave Massey’s choreography, Mike Buckley’s lighting, Marty Burnett’s set design (the Gym at the school), Chris Luessmann’s sound design and musical direction by Steven Withers should be on your ‘must see’ list.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: July 3rd.-Aug. 14th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$50.00