By Joe Straw
Culver City High School & The Academy of Visual Performing Arts present a Blurred Vision Theatre Company Production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Music and Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Rachel Sheinkin, Conceived by Rachel Sheinkin, directed by Kristen Opstad; it finished its four-performance run on March 17, 2016 at the Vets Center in Culver City.
I was fortunate to see this production three times and, with each opportunity, I found the performances got perceptively better; that is exactly what should happen with a high school troupe learning their craft.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is about a group of contestants trying to win their local spelling bee contest.
What makes this musical enticing is that no one comes alone. They all bring their fraught family relationships and emotional baggage as they negotiate their way to victory.
Rona Lisa Peretti (Sequoya Henry) enters the spelling bee hall with all the poise and confidence of a previous winner from day’s gone bye. She was the winner of the 3rd Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Peretti is followed by last year’s previous winner Chip Tolentino (Dillon Zehnder). Chip is wearing his Boy Scout uniform. This year though his road has taken a nasty turn - onto puberty highway - which makes his life in this bee, precarious
Not far behind him is Logainne SchwartzandGrubeniere (Ryanne Biernat), a very young physical specimen looking for a fight and an easy victory.
Leaf Coneybear (Jaylen Rosado) is the oddest-looking contestant, wearing a cape and homemade clothing. A telephone with a cord that lead to nowhere is an accouterment on his being. (later missing in a later version of the show) He has a mysterious way of spelling as he falls into a green trance.
William Barfée (Joey O’Neal), appears to be dancing on stage, lissome, in a Fred Astaire way. He spells using his foot as he lifts his arms high into the air. He is allergic to peanuts and can only breath through one nostril.
Marcy Park (Kacey Oschack) has stepped out of a fancy private school athletic, “Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrow”, athletic, and a girl who had it all except that one thing.
Olive Ostrovsky (Maya Derbise) came on the bus without the $25.00 entrance fee. She is doe-eyed, completely lost, a smile that shows only her upper teeth, and looking for another friend on this day.
Vice Principal Doug Panch (Aidan Van den Broeck) is the announcer. He announces the spelling words, provides definitions, and uses the words in sentences. Nothing bothers this man with exception of certain indigestible foods. He can be volatile at times.
Mitch Mahoney (Dylan Staal) has just stepped out of the confines of a local jail and is now doing community service for the spelling bee and trying to be altruistic in his way.
And what would a spelling bee be without Jesus (Annie Melnick), a woman bringing the good word to the bee.
Carl Dad (Oliver Marcus) and Dan Dad (Yogi Sylvain) are there to support their daughter Logaine SchwartzandGrubeniere and make it so she wins – even if they have to cheat on her behalf.
There was also a terrific sporting cast of dancers and singers including Sophia Martin-Straw (Brook Coneybear), Sophia Posner (Pinecone Coneybear), Avery Bielski (Raisin Coneybear), Charlotte Feit-Leichman (Landscape Coneybear), Sophia Price (Paula Coneybear), Izzy Layne (Karen Coneybear), and Sophia Lafaurie Munoz (Rascal Coneybear).
Kirsten Opstad, director, showcases refulgent talent in this portentous, imaginary, whimsical, and delightful musical. Although this is a slightly truncated version of the original Broadway show – they bring it down from a “PG” to a “G” rating (High School!) – it still packs a punch.
(The show generally features adults playing kids, somewhat looking back on their experiences. And although it is a comedy, the show, in its long form, tackles serious issues like depression, anxiety, and abandonment, which makes it a wonderful night of theatre. Still, in any form it is a delight.)
Sequoya Henry, in her tremulous glow, showcased her powerful voice. Kacey Oschack nailed I Speak Six Languages. And when Maya Derbise sang The I Love You Song, it just brought down the house.
Jaylen Rosado wins over audience with his version of “I’m Not That Smart.” Joey O’Neal wows them with “Magic Foot.” Ryanne Biernat was very physical in her character portrayal bringing a lot of laughs to this musical.
The Blurred Vision Theatre Company was backed by a delightful orchestra lead by Tony Spano, Music Director. Thomas Gaff was the Accompanist, Celine Cuadra on flute, Baxter Hamilton and James Kocher on clarinet, Xaul Starr on soprano sax, Matthew Kojima and Riley McCrary on alto sax, and the percussion section was Wesley Page, Mikael Nida, Mario Bechtloff Weising and Angel Sanchez Perez.
Choreography by Carol was enchanting.
Other members of the fabulous crew are as follows:
Celine Cuadra & Shavit Melamed – Set Design
Alekos Tetradis – Props Design
Emily Wulf – Lighting Design
Anneliese du Boulay – Lighting Mentor
Erin Hamill – Sound Design
Will Schuessler – Sound Engineering
Zoe Alamillo & Malaika Stamble – Costume Design
Kelly Carson – Stage Manager
Thistle Boosinger – Artwork
A lot of work went into this show and I’m glad I went!