Michael Bush, whose list of accomplishments is impressive, including 25 years as director of artistic production at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City and productions at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY, Charlotte Repertory Theatre, NC, the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles, and many more, is a visiting guest artist at William Peace Theatre and the director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which features music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin. It is a musical that has been popular since it opened on Broadway in 2005, and was also nominated for six Tony Awards®. Bring the two together and you have an evening of laughs, music, and some gentle probing into the vicissitudes of growing up.
When the curtain rises, six middle schoolers are competing to win an annual spelling bee, with several audience members called in to ease the tension among the contestants. The bee is run by moderator Rona Lisa Peretti (Alexandra Finazzo), vice principal Douglas Panch (Dustin Walker), and comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Demetrius Jackson.) Finazzo has a strong singing voice and commands the stage as a former winner of the bee who can be strict when needed. She carefully but firmly rebuffs the overtures of vice principal Panch, played by Walker, who ably demonstrates the underlying demons raging within his character. Demetrius Jackson is not only hilarious as Mitch Mahoney, who first comforts, and then escorts from the stage each of the losing contestants, with a box of juice, but is tender and gentle with each of them.
- J. Curtis also deserves high honors for his comedic presentation of William Barfée, and for his sensitive and expressive bearing. Curtis is a large young man with graceful movements, especially when writing out the words with his “magic foot” on the floor before spelling them aloud.
Olive Ostrovsky, whose mother is off in India at an ashram during this, Olive’s first bee, while her father is busy working and expected to arrive late, is portrayed by Mary Lynn Bain. She brings a touching wistfulness to the role, moving us deeply as she imagines her parents (played by Hannah Godbold and Tanner Callicut) as they all sing “The I Love You Song” as a trio.
Marcy Park, the girl who does everything and does it exactly right, comes to us through Grace Gibbons, who includes being perfect in this part among her talents. Rosemary Richards is strong as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, and her two dads (Luis Beltran as Dan Schwartz and Waylin Owsley as Carl Grubenierre) are simply precious.
Chip Tolentino, a Boy Scout with a rising problem, is played with high energy and notable humor by Melvin Gray; and he is charmingly forthright in the song describing his unfortunate condition. Shayne McKenzie is animated and flexible, with a loose-limbed body very much under control, as Leaf Coneybear. His Mom is played by Katelyn Godbold. Four apparently randomly chosen audience members fill out the contestant pool.
All the music and dancing is just fine, but certainly “Pandemonium” stands out for complicated choreography by Melissa Compton, executed speedily, and some of it done in the dark. The set works well as a middle school gymnasium set up as makeshift auditorium, well designed by Julie E. Ricciardi and Chad Gerber.
Costumes by Allison M. White are unique to each character, lending authenticity to the roles. Music director and conductor Matt Hodge also doubles on keyboard and leads a quintet of excellent musicians.
Unfortunately, this is a one weekend show, and we hasten to encourage William Peace Theatre one more time to give these wonderful entertainers more exposure to the area public.
William Peace Theatre presents THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at 2 p.m. March 29 in the Leggett Theater on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $15 ($5 students and $10 senior citizens and William Peace University alumni).
BOX OFFICE: Door sales only.
PRESENTER: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre and https://www.facebook.com/williampeacetheatre.
2014-15 SEASON: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/2014-15-arts-and-events-schedule.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee(2005 Broadway musical): http://www.spellingbeethemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000336 (Music Theatre International), http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=392858 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_25th_Annual_Putnam_County_Spelling_Bee (Wikipedia).
William Finn (composer and lyricist): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=9128 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Finn (Wikipedia).
Rachel Sheinkin (playwright): http://drama.yale.edu/facstaff/rachel-sheinkin (Yale School of Drama bio) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=392861 (Internet Broadway Database).
Michael Bush (director): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=72348 (Internet Broadway Database).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.