25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Did you like to compete in brainy and nerdy activities in grade school, ones that promoted school spirit? Is spelling one of the skills you retained from your early learning days? Do you like to read the dictionary just for fun? Is Daniel Webster one of your heroes? If you answered yes, then have I got a theatrical experience for you!

Conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with book by Rachel Sheinkin, music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” oozes with charm as a half dozen middle school kids who are the nerds and the geeks of the area classes compete for the coveted trophy and savings bond that go to the winner. You might even find yourself on stage with them…if you are brave and confident and ready for a challenge. But never worry, you have to volunteer to find yourself in the spotlight on stage.

Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, until Sunday, February 5, is anxious and able to provide just the perfect setting for the fun and angst that goes with the competition. Come meet Marcy Park (Holly LoRusso) as the dedicated parochial school entry who speaks five or six or seven languages and determines for herself whether she will win or lose. She rejects being perfect, with the help of a heavenly creature. Chip Tolentino (Michael Newman) is the perpetual Boy Scout and a great ball player but he develops a physical problem related to puberty that erupts on stage and ultimately determines his fate. With a sinus condition, an allergy to nuts, a handkerchief and a magic foot, William Barfee (James Donohue) dances his way into spelling stardom. He resents his name being continually mispronounced but manages to show a softer side.

Also hot into the competition is Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre (Katie Brunetto) with two papas and a whole lot of pressure and the need to stand up for equality for all genders and sexualities. In Olive Ostrovsky (Rosalie Corry Pena), we find a bouncing bundle of enthusiasm who only wishes at least one of her parents were there for encouragement. Her dad is busy at work and her mom has elected to go to an ashram in India for nine months. Sporting a bike helmet and wearing his self-designed clothes, Leaf Coneybear (Jonathan Zalaski) is the home schooled speller. His siblings have tried to convince him he is dumb, but he knows better. Four lucky volunteers (local “celebrities”) from the audience are also invited on stage to prove their spelling prowess…or not.

In addition, Miss Peretti (Alyssa Fontana Bunel), Vice Principal Mr. Panch (Johnny Ozerhoski) and a felon doing community service named Mitch (Moses Jacob) deliver the words, the rules, the definitions, the pronunciations, language of origin, use in a sentence and the comfort hugs when they lose. Marissa Follo Perry and Jimmy Donohue co-direct, with choreography by Foster Evans Reese and musical direction by Holly McCann, and this Tony award-winning musical comedy has a heart bigger than the entire gymnasium. The songs are heartfelt and sweet and express how each kid is feeling and what their world is really about in words and dance.

For tickets ($25), call Seven Angels Theatre, One Plank Road, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 

Grab your dictionary and be prepared to join the p-a-n-d-e-m-o-n-i-u-m when “Spelling Bee” rings your bell. Brushing up on words that name South American rodents isn’t a bad idea either.