OGDEN — Terrace Plaza Playhouse has done something I have not seen a local company in Utah do, which is a “reunion production,” calling most of the cast of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from their April 2019 production back for this production. Directed by Leslie Richards, this “revival” was just as fun as the original, and at least according to my husband, may have even gotten better with age.
For those who have never seen it, the Spelling Bee covers a night of “misfit children” played by adult actors who are all hoping to be crowned the winner of this evening’s events. The evening has a master of ceremonies played by Whitney Cahoon, one of the only newcomers to the 2021 cast. Cahoon slipped into the production with ease, with a fantastic voice and impeccable comedic timing. Her character, Rona Lisa Perretti, is a past winner of a spelling bee and still lives in that limelight. Cahoon did so well with her scenes when her character talked about her time as a spelling bee contestant, with a dreamy look in her eye and an aura of joy and fond memories. Cahoon’s pairing with Tyler O’Bagy as the word-giver Douglas Panch was absolutely hilarious and entertaining. O’Bagy has the capability of remaining in character despite lines that seem like they should break anybody due to their hilarity. The definitions his character provided for the words of the bee, the reactions he gave, and his general timing was sheer genius. I praised him in my previous review of this production, but I think he may have gotten even better as time has gone by.
Another character that I guess you could say blew my socks off was William Barfee, played by John Richards. His spectacular song, “Magic Foot,” was everything a show stopper should be, from the choreography by Ginny Spencer to the humor and timing of John Richards’ movements, lines, and characterization. The rest of the cast coming in to dance with John Richards as he spelled his words with his foot were just delightful and vastly entertaining. John Richards also kept me in stitches every time his character corrected Douglas Panch with a mispronunciation of his name, or gave much too much information of his breathing difficulties. The way John Richards displayed his character’s awkwardness was endearing and uncomfortable all at the same time.
To point out all of the characters and the ways they stood out would take up more than my allotted word count, but it is important to say that each of the cast members was well chosen for their part, and the production was truly a strong evening of amusement. One of the key parts of the production is audience participation, and four audience members are selected from the audience before the production to be a part of the show. I watched director Leslie Richards seek out people who had been vaccinated, willing to wear a mask, and who were not actors that would be willing to get up on stage and be a part of the process. I appreciated that the playhouse was being considerate of the health and safety of the actors and the audience members while making sure that this part of the performance could still happen, because it is such a delight to see the fun and different interactions that can happen when unique audience members are selected. One of the members chosen on the evening I attended seemed to have quite a gift with spelling, and I think the only moment that O’Bagy may have come close to breaking character was when a word that surely was expected to be spelled wrong was in fact spelled correctly.
The set, designed by Corie Deaun, resembled any school gymnasium that you would find in your local school, and the costumes designed by Tami Richardson were each a natural fit to the characters that were wearing them, from the perfect real estate outfit on Cahoon as Rona to the quirky outfit on Ethan Montgomery, who played a lovely young man named Leaf Coneybear who ended up at the bee after a few others in his local competition dropped out. While Leaf has been overlooked by his family and not seen as smart, through some great physical comedy and fantastic singing, we in the audience get to see just how smart and skilled he really is. Emily Richards as the incorrigible Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (not spelled wrong!) was also full of moments where she had the entire audience laughing at her wit and timing. Matraca Mercedes Mera as Olive Ostrovsky not only had all the elements of humor, she had the strongest moment of connection with the audience and the moment of challenge and grief where she produced a real tear and made me produce a real tear, too.
Like good cheese, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is better years later. Grab your family and head over to Terrace Plaza for some good laughs, but practice your spelling because you might get asked to be a part of it.