‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ at Dignity Players by Amanda Gunther

FOUR STARS
Quirky. Adj.— having or full of quirks. The show I saw this afternoon sure was quirky. Q-U-I-R-K-Y. That is correct! The three things you can ask for, as clearly stated in the rules: pronunciation of the word, its definition and origin and for the word to be used in a sentence. The rules of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that is, as presented in all its resplendent quirkiness by Dignity Players of Annapolis this summer season! Directed by Mickey Lund with Musical Direction by Jill Compton, this idiosyncratic musical will take you back to the adolescent days of awkward nerds and childhood problems long since forgotten. An irreverently adorable look at one of the brainiac’s most unifying events; Spelling Bee tells the story of six very peculiar students trying to take the trophy at the annual local spelling bee, which is hosted by three very unusual adults.

Director Mickey Lund puts a creative spin on the childish outfits worn by the young characters in the show. Each person has a unique and spunky personality that is augmented by their zany outfits, some look polished like well-prepared studious little over-achievers while others look absurd with pink bike helmets and matching printed bed-sheet-super-capes. The overall look crafted with Lund’s design really helps to suspend the audience’s belief when watching these grown adults take on the roles of nervous anxious children.

(l to r) Logainne (Ali Vellon) Barfee (Dean Davis) Mitch (Chris Haley) Leaf (Mickey Ruttum) Olive (Laura Kavinsky) and Marcy (Shannon Benil). Photo courtesy of Dignity Players.

(l to r) Logainne (Ali Vellon), Barfee (Dean Davis), Mitch (Chris Haley), Leaf (Mickey Ruttum), Olive (Laura Kavinsky), and Marcy (Shannon Benil). Photo courtesy of Dignity Players.

Musical Director Jill Compton’s efforts are well recognized with the solo performances in this production. Compton does struggle to execute balanced intonation during the larger group numbers like “Pandemonium” and the various choruses of “Goodbye.” If this is an intentional move to make the performers sound more childlike, it is overdone. Vocal projection is another place where the production takes a hit, because there are some incredibly impressive voices, but because they fade in and out throughout their numbers it becomes hard to hear the clever lines written into the story.

Each of the students and the three adults that are overseeing the bee becomes wild caricatures of school-day stereotypes, and as an ensemble they play extremely well off one another. The outcast of the group, Mitch Mahoney (Chris Haley) finds a way to blend in; being the parolee forced into community service that he’s now serving at the bee. This role becomes an ironically comic gold mine, particularly with Haley’s animated facial expressions. Gruff. Adj.— abrupt or taciturn in manner. Haley plays the character with a gruff edge. While not being the strongest singer, he fills in his character with raw personality and edgy comments. G-R-U-F-F.

Chip Tolentino (Jason Vellon) is last year’s champion. Mortification. Noun— a sense of humiliation and shame caused by something that wounds one’s pride or self-respect. Vellon displays sheer mortification when singing “Chip’s Lament.” His whiny in-your-face interface is comical, and when he starts throwing things at the audience it’s pretty entertaining. M-O-R-T-I-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N.

Mary Park (Shannon Benil) has a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas.. Militant. Adj.— Aggressively active. Benil portrays her character with a militant attitude. The beauty in her portrayal comes from the transformation we witness, as she dissolves from rigid and snotty to easily carefree. Her boisterous solo, “I Speak Six Languages” showcases her powerhouse vocals, one of the stronger singers in the bunch. M-I-L-I-T-A-N-T.

Leaf Coneybear (Mickey Ruttum) is the most unusual of the bunch. Ruttum succeeds in his attempts to make the character very juvenile, clearly living in his own little world. Addlepated. Adj.— eccentric, peculiar. Ruttum’s addlepated existence makes his moments of trance-like monotone delivery for spelling words extremely humorous; a sharp juxtaposition from his jovial existence and this computerized speller. His voice, albeit soft and faint, is quite lovely for the solo “I’m Not That Smart.” A-D-D-L-E-P-A-T-E-D.

Logainne SchwartzandGrubinierre (Ali Vellon) is the epitome of geek girl to the extreme. With a pronounced lisp, which at times is overdone to really stress the awkwardness of her character, Vellon plays up the stereotype of gauche little girl. Pitiable. Adj.— deserving or exciting pity. Vellon’s character is morose and pitiable when singing her solo “Woe Is Me” and its reprise; though it is an honest and heartfelt song, showcasing her gentle voice with clear tonal accuracy. P-I-T-I-A-B-L-E.

Olive Ostrovsky (Laura Kavinsky) is a prime example of a nervous Nelly if ever there was one. Floccinaucinihilipilification. Noun— the estimation of something as valueless. Kavinsky’s character’s whole existence is one big floccinaucinihilipilification, until the end of the show. Kavinsky delves into the character’s physicality, slumping and looking perpetually uncertain; a brilliant incarnation of a girl lacking self-confidence. Her vocal ability, however, is not lacking, in fact quite the opposite. Sweet and proud during “The I Love You Song,” you feel every chimerical emotion Kavinsky pushes into it. F-L-O-C-C-I-N-A-U-C-I-N-I-H-I-L-I-P-I-L-I-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N.

William Barfee (Dean Davis) can be found in the dictionary with his picture under the word poindexter. Dedicated. Adj.— devoted to a cause, ideal, or purpose. Davis is dedicated to the vocal integrity of his character’s nasally sound, never deviating for even a second whether he’s singing or speaking. His solo “Magic Foot” is an uproarious comic moment that is both humorous and touching, a combination of sheer entertainment and self-discovery. Davis’ overall performance is astonishing, the character so well created, envisioned as a nerd-extraordinaire, that you completely forget he’s a grown adult performer. D-E-D-I-C-A-T-E-D.

(l to r) Rona (Sheri Kuznucki-Owen), Panch (Kevin Wallace), and Mitch (Chris Hale). Photo courtesy of Dignity Players.

(l to r) Rona (Sheri Kuznucki-Owen), Panch (Kevin Wallace), and Mitch (Chris Hale). Photo courtesy of Dignity Players.

Running the Bee is Miss Lisa Rona Peretti (Sheri Kuznucki-Owen.) Rhapsodic. Adj.— of, resembling, or characteristic of effusively rapturous or extravagant discourse. Kuznucki-Owen gives a rhapsodic rendition of every one of Rona’s “Moments.” Her voice is the most powerful in the cast; a rare gem blended with proud emotional swells and excellent pitch. She’s a spastic character that really has a handle on her comic moments, an overall delight to watch. R-H-A-P-S-O-D-I-C.

Last, but certainly not least, is Douglas Panch (Kevin Wallace). Shatneresque. Adj.— having similar humors to the epic legend William Shatner. Wallace’s portrayal of the last minute substitute judge is best described as Shatneresque. With an impeccable sense of comic timing and a voice that will make your head spin in a positively delightful way, Wallace’s character becomes a scene stealer and he’s not even one of the bee contestants! A deliciously zany character, Wallace makes his presence known. S-H-A-T-N-E-R-E-S-Q-U-E.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a cute and quaint little piece that is a good way to spend 90 minutes of your summer. And you never know— you might even get to be a part of the spelling bee! With audience members being called up to participate – an entertaining time is guaranteed for all!

Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, with no intermission.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays through August 17, 2013 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis – 333 Dubois Road in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 266-8044 ext 127. or purchase them online.

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