In 1965 a group of Walter Johnson High School students from Bethesda decided to put on a show over the summer. Lacking adults to supervise their summer theatrics, the teens decided to go it alone, and Wildwood Summer Theatre (WST) was born! Now, over 50 years later, WST is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that puts on annual shows with a cast, crew, pit orchestra, and creative team entirely composed of 14 to 25 year olds. WST prides itself on being “the only fully independent youth-run summer theatre in the Washington, D.C. area,” and each season, returning WST members train new members on different aspects of theatre.
As many of the cast, crew, and production staff head back to high school or college in the fall, WST’s ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ gives you an opportunity to see where up-and-coming artists get their start. Don’t miss it!
This summer’s WST performance, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” follows 6 plucky students (and a handful of unsuspecting audience members) as they attempt to win the county-wide spelling bee. To reach “The Bee,” each contestant had to win–or place!–in their school’s spelling bee. The winner gets a trophy, bragging rights, and a trip to Nationals. With creative music and script by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn and a little room for the cast’s improvisation, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is an irreverent look at the world of competitive spelling.
Scenic Designer Mercedes Blankenship and Props Designer Kelly Gentilo set the tone for the show by giving the stage the appearance of a run-down gymnasium. The visual combination of the bleachers, replete with miniature water bottles, and the multi-colored inspirational posters hung on the walls created a hilarious juxtaposition with the competing spellers’ delusions of grandeur. Will Koehler’s lighting design also seemed to undermine the characters’ self-seriousness. Much like a piano bar, a blue spotlight would appear whenever characters reminisced or broke into song. The artistic team took a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and let the audience in on the joke.
Because “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a wonderfully awkward hodgepodge of musical memories and jokes about puberty, individual performances can sometimes get lost in the mix. Nevertheless, a few cast members stood out. Joey Moore plays a delightful, goofy Leaf Coneybear, and his ability to quickly switch between playing happy-go-lucky Leaf and a strict father to Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere is impressive. Taylor Litofsky consistently affected a lisp throughout the show, Lexie Cheng developed an entire character arc over the course of just one song, and Marney Harris and Steven Franco sang beautiful harmonies. However, Mary Murdock as spelling bee host Rona Peretti was a knockout. Her voice carried many of the songs, and her vaguely transatlantic accent was exactly what you might expect from “Putnam County’s number one realtor.”
In addition to these standouts, each of the actors in the cast had excellent comedic timing and physicality. Like the kids and clueless adults they played, the actors deadpanned even the funniest lines as if they weren’t in on the joke. Cole Friedman’s inventive choreography made good use of the small space, and the actors moved deliberately, always remaining in character. At one point in the show, the cast had to move in slow motion for about a minute and a half. Tudor Postolache’s William Barfee was especially well done. Despite playing characters that could easily be pantomimed, each actor found a different and controlled way for their character to move across the stage. They stayed true to their characters instead of going for the easy laugh, which was especially mature for a group of young performers.
As many of the cast, crew, and production staff head back to high school or college in the fall, WST’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” gives you an opportunity to see where up-and-coming artists get their start. Don’t miss it!
Advisory: Show contains adult humor.
Running Time: is approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
WST’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs through August 3, 2019 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. For ticket information, click here or call (301) 258-6394.