In this witty and entertaining production of “The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee,” quirky contestants, parents, and spelling aficionados alike converge at the Bee, each with hopes, dreams, and some remarkable eccentricities.
Now serving as Bee monitor, former spelling champion Rona Lisa Peretti (Sara C. Watson) relishes the opportunity to relive her glory days at the Bee. Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Jeff Breslow) a Bee judge, relishes the opportunity to be near Perreti, although it’s clear she does not return his enthusiasm.
…hit another one out of the park, with a particularly well-cast and creative presentation of this much-loved musical.
As the competition gets underway, the audience learns about the contestants’ lives, revealing a darker side to the Bee, one in which a passion for spelling masks the drive to gain the approval of overbearing or absent parents and less-than supportive siblings. Much hilarity ensues, however, as the characters unwittingly demonstrate the sheer ridiculousness of the need to win at all costs.
Notable performances abound from a talented group of actors. Watson’s strong soprano emphasizes her character’s officious, take-charge nature, and Breslow, whose character insists he’s “in a better place” following an unfortunate incident at a past Bee, captures the quirks of the frustrated and awkward vice principal. Chris Gallegos gives a performance that has the audience wondering if he really is Mitch Mahoney, an ex-con doing court-mandated community service by comforting losing competitors with a juice box and a hug.
Each of the six spellers delivers noteworthy performances. Holly Kelly conveys the loneliness and longing of Olive Ostrovsky, a young girl whose mother has left to live in an Indian ashram, and whose best friend is the dictionary. Meghan Bentley embodies overachiever Marcy Park, a student at Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows who is tired of always winning (yes, she’s annoying), and William Jeffreys, who plays the character of William Barfée, demonstrates a gift for comic timing, particularly when he’s correcting the pronunciation of his unfortunate last name.
The set, which recreates a typical middle school gymnasium featuring bleachers, a judges table, and reminders of past middle school athletics triumphs, instantly takes the audience back to junior high, compliments of George Farnsworth (set construction & scene shop manager), Claire Tse (properties design), and Bunny Bonnes (assistant props manager).
Under the able direction of Lori Robby, the orchestra serves the singers well with crisp tempos and a sound that supports but never overpowers the actors.
Directors Kevin and Pamela McCormack, who have gifted MCP with a number of successful productions, have hit another one out of the park, with a particularly well-cast and creative presentation of this much-loved musical.
Spend an evening in Putnam County at the 25th Annual Bee. You won’t soon forget the characters or the comedy that just might bring back some memories your hometown.
Advisory: Adult situations, some material may be unsuitable for children under 13.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs through July 30 at Vinson Hall, 1753 Kirby Rd, McLean, VA 22101. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.