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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

A delightfully winning staging of the Tony Award-winning musical.

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The Company of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Photo credit: Michael Dekker)

The Company of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Photo credit: Michael Dekker)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Astoria Performing Arts Center’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a delightful concoction of song, dance and jokes performed by a game, stylish cast. The William Finn (songs)/Rachel Sheinkin (book) Tony Award-winning musical is silly fun, and silly fun is what the audience gets along with wit, gentle social commentary, and lots of esoteric words to spell along with the cast.

Director Dev Bondarin cleverly enlisted scenic designer Tim McMath to transform the APAC’s theater into a high school gymnasium, complete with posters (“No Bullying Allowed,” “Today is a great day to learn something new,”) banners (“Go Cougars,”) and the kind of simple platform that would be at home in any gym.  Bondarin also gifted this production with an air of immediacy and an unrelenting up-tempo.

The musical is a perfectly distillation of the Spelling Bee institution, spinning it to give the back stories of all the characters.

The cast of oddballs and the desperate-to-win slowly assembles singing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”  The young contestants:  eager Chip Tolentino (a radiant Stephen Mark) whose hormones hilariously get the better of him—“Chip’s Lament”; gender confused, with two dads, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (a solid Heslens Estevez); nerdy redhead, Leaf Conybear (pleasingly awkward Lee Slobotkin) whose “I’m Not That Smart” says it all; severe, driven, winner-take-all Marcy Park (Emily Borromeo, loveably determined) boasts “I Speak Six Languages”; William Barfee (sweetly goofy Patrick Halley) displays his “Magic Foot” with which he spells out his words; and the lovely, quiet—and poor—Olive Ostrovsky (Becca Andrews, quiet, but intense) whose “The I Love You Song” was heartbreaking.

Lindsie VanWinkle and Matt Welsh in a scene from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Photo credit: Michael Dekker)

Lindsie VanWinkle and Matt Welsh in a scene from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Photo credit: Michael Dekker)

The three adults:  Rona Lisa Peretti who organized the Bee is played by the solid Lindsie VanWinkle who turns this happy bureaucrat with a past into a funny, three-dimensional human being; Mitch Mahoney, the security guard who marches the losers off with gifts of candy, is played by Billy Lowrimore with an avuncular appeal; and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, dryly and sardonically inhabited by Matt Welsh who steals the show with his “put it in a sentence” bits.

Icing on the cake were three game audience members who were “guest spellers.” They lasted quite long before being eliminated.

The costumes of Jennifer Jacob were perfect, from Marcy’s uptight dress to the layered nerdiness of William Barfee and prim suit of Rona Lisa Peretti.  Adam Honoré’s lighting was pleasingly unobtrusive.

The small band, hidden behind a door at the rear of the platform was led with verve by Michael Ferrara.

The APAC’s production rivals the original Broadway production with its warmth and good humor and makes it clear why The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

will be a staple of theater companies for years to come.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (through May 28, 2016)

Astoria Performing Arts Center/Good Shepherd United Methodist Church,

30-44 Crescent Street @ 30th Road, in Astoria, Queens

For tickets call 718-706-5750 or visit http://www.Apacny.org

Running time: two hours including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (308 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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