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

Was spelling your favorite time in school or did you cringe each week when the Friday test words were announced? Whether you’re a great speller (like acouchi, a South American rodent) or have trouble with words of one syllable (like cow), you are going to take a whole dictionary full of pleasure when you sign up for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut in Ridgefield, ACT, will be encouraging you to come and practice your spelling bee list for the competitions to be held until Sunday, June 23.

The late great playwright Wendy Wasserstein is credited with putting composer William Finn together with his former student Rachel Sheinkin and her co-creator Rebecca Feldman to turn this original non-musical C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E (possibly one of the spelling words) into this Tony Award winning musical. If you’ve never experienced it, what a treat. If you’re already a fan, go again and take some friends or family with you.

If you’re daring and live on the edge, you might even volunteer to be one of the extra hand-selected to join the bee-on stage-with an official entry number and everything. You, too, can earn a juice box and a hug from the official comfort counselor Mitch (Ryan Williams) who is there serving out his community service while on parole.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is held in Washington, D. C. over Memorial Day weekend and this year selected eight winners instead of just one. It has been held every year since 1925, except during World War II, but “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” deserves kudos and accolades as well. Where else would you find a Boy Scout named Chip (Colin Miyamoto) who wears a chestful of badges, a pigtailed angel (Emma Tattenbaum-Fine) who sports not one dad but two which influences her leadership of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, an original Flower Child named Leaf Coneybear (Graham Baker) who makes his own cheerful and colorful clothing, William Barfee (rhymes with parfait) who has a rare mucous membrane disorder and (thanks to Phil Sloves) a magical and moving foot that spells out the words, an over-achieving parochial student, Marcy Park (Sumi Yu) who can’t help how incredibly smart she is and, lastly, a young girl who talks into her hand to spell, Olive (Morgan Billings Smith) who bravely stands alone, with her mom off in an Indian ashram and her dad busy at work.

Each contestant wants to win so they can proudly say they succeeded at something special. They are each a bit of a misfit but they stand tall and are willing to risk everything to write their own ticket to destiny and pride. Along the way, as they compete and rise to the challenge, they learn enough about themselves to earn the title of champion, whether they win the trophy or not.

Overseeing the proceedings are Vice Principal Panch (John C. Baker) who has a dubious past and eager-to-please Rona Lisa Peretti (Amy Hutchins) who has the double distinction of being a class A realtor and of winning the 3rd Annual Bee. Under the wonderful direction of Michelle Tattenbaum, clever gym set by Jack Mehler and animated choreography of Ilana Ransom Toeplitz, with a cast of top notch performers and words to spell like “weltanschauung” and “vug,” you are guaranteed a lively, animated and entertaining evening.

For tickets ($52-72), call ACT, 36 Old Quarry Road, Ridgefield at 475-215-5433 or online at Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, at 2 p.m.

You’ll enjoy everything from the initial musical recitation of “The Rules” to the interim “Pandemonium” all the way to the crowning of “The Champion.” I p-r-o-m-i-s-e you!