IVINS — When UTBA was looking for someone to review shows at Tuacahn, I quickly threw in my name to be considered. I had always wanted to go down and see a show, and had heard wonderful things about the theatre and its productions. When asked if I would go and review The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I was even more excited because I had never seen that show. Spelling Bee is playing in the indoor Hafen Theatre, and it starts earlier than the outdoor productions, which allowed me to walk around the grounds and see all that Tuacahn has to offer, including Tuachan’s performing arts high school. I enjoyed being able to see the school and look at the exciting things they have done there.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is, of course, a story of a spelling bee in a small county somewhere in America. The audience gets to know different characters, and how they came to love spelling. The cast is small, with 9 actors covering all the parts in the show. There is also a great element of audience participation, which was certainly one of the many highlights of this production.
As a reviewer for UTBA, I bring a small notebook where I jot down little thoughts as I have them, things I would like to see done a little different, and things I really enjoy. This method has worked for me with every show that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. However, about three songs into The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I had to put my notebook into my purse as I realized this show was so enjoyable that I did not have any need to write anything down.
The show begins as the emcee, Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Melissa Brandzel, enters the school gymnasium to prepare for the Bee. She seems to have a flashback of her very own win at this same spelling bee years ago. Brandzel convincingly portrayed a character who loved both being a winner and watching for potential winners, such as herself. Part of Rona Lisa’s job as emcee was to describe the different things the spellers would do to help them concentrate, and she was able to deliver some of the evenings most amusing lines with such ease and concentration of character that I could not help but be impressed.
The opening song introduces each of the spellers, and one wonderful thing about this show is that each of the people in the show get their own moment to shine. Among the spellers we have Marcy Park, played by Shannon Tyo. Tyo plays a young girl who has spent most of her life being taught by her family to be the best at everything, and this becomes evident when she sings “I Speak Six Languages.” I enjoyed her performance of that song, and how Tyo was able to capture the feelings of kids who are forced by their parents to achieve. There is a humorous moment in the show where Marcy prays to have a harder word, and what happens after that pray was unexpected and hilarious. I was completely floored by Tyo’s ability to play that scene well.
Another character that stood out in this show for me was Olive Ostrovsky, played by MacKenzie Thomas. Her character is one who comes to the spelling bee without her entrance fee, or her family. She is shy, and feels very unloved. One of the first songs sung in the show by Olive is “My Friend, the Dictionary.” Thomas did such a great job of sounding young and innocent, yet not annoying. I was surprised at how attached I became to her character, because I did not expect this play to be strong in character development.
I was also quite amused by the character of Mitch Mahoeny, played by Eymard Cabling. Cabling also played a few smaller roles, such as the father of a few of the characters. The character of Mitch is one that is rough around the edges, and I was quite impressed that Cabling was able to quickly jump from one character to another. Cabling also delivered one of the most amusing parts of the show when he sang “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.” It was one of the many times I laughed so hard that I had tears in my eyes.
In truth, I could write many pages including each actor and the things they did to make this show a success. From the beginning, to the end, I was intrigued, whether I was listening to the amazing one liners said by the vice principal/word reader, Douglas Panch, played by Sheffield Chastain, or being mesmerized by the humor in the character of William Barfee (played by Daniel Vito Siefring), a student who has mastered his spelling skills by using his “Magic Foot.” Siefring had such a way with responding to questions that I truly believed he was just as smart and as nerdy as the script said he should be. I also loved the character of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, played by Alyssa Malgeri. Logainne is a young lady being raised by her two dads, and is trying ever so hard to be everything that her dads want her to be. One thing I was very impressed by with Malgeri was her use of facial expressions. Every time she said a line or had a nervous tick, she had a facial expression to go with it, as well as a signature lisp. I’ve seen many actors attempt lisps, and they always seem to be inconsistent with this type of speech impediment. In my day job, I deal a lot with people with things such as ticks and lisps is that they are very consistent, so you can expect where or when it my show up. Malgeri had certainly practiced this a lot and his lisp was more consistent than any I had ever seen on stage before.
The set was simple, because simple is all that is required for this show. The story is at a spelling bee in a school gymnasium, and to have an elaborate set would take away from the wonderful acting. The choreography was simple as well, but well done and well executed. I was particularly impressed with the choreography (by Nicole Javanna Johnson) during the song “Magic Foot.”
This production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was directed by Scott S. Anderson, who also happens to be Tuacahn’s artistic director. I commend Anderson for putting together a fine evening of entertainment. I hope that theatre patrons in Utah will take advantage of being able to see this show at Tuacahn, and not just go for the shows that are presented at the outdoor theatre. I am so glad I had a evening where I could put away the notebook, and just spend 2 hours of time being truly entertained.