My alma mater, Tennessee Technological University, is currently showing their fall musical. This year’s choice happened to be The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. One of the most hilarious (and slightly ironic) things about TTU doing this show is that the college in located in Putnam County in Tennessee. This musical seems to have become wildly popular in community and regional theatres. I’d heard the cast recording a few times and I had a basic idea of what the show was about, so I was excited to get to see a production of it.
A cast of six “kids” play the spellers in the bee. Leaf Coneybear, played by Richard McMahon, is as crazy as his name sounds. Leaf is a homeschooled student who makes his own clothes (his costume consisted of some crazy articles of clothing, including a beach towel and a crash helmet) and finished in 3rd place in his last spelling bee. He only made it to the county bee by default when the winner and second runner up had to attend the same bat mitzvah.
William Barfee, played with great hilarity by Josh Rapp, was a “tragedy” at the previous bee, being disqualified when he succumbed to a peanut allergy. Chip Tolentino, played by Adam Combs, was the previous year’s winner. Marcy Park, played by Lisa Shin, is a perfectionist at heart, and ready to take on anyone. Played by Jessie Nance, Olive Ostrovsky is a sweet girl whose parents are mostly absent from her life and she had quite the self-esteem problem.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere was played by Tori Cannon. Logainne is the youngest speller in the bee, and suffers from quite the adorable lisp. She is also child of two dads (which is where her name Schwartz and Grubeniere becomes Schwartzandgrubeniere) that is being held to incredibly high standards for winning (pushy parents anyone?). Ms. Cannon did a great job despite being surrounded by actors much older than her.
Heading up the spelling bee is former bee winner Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Mary Pashley. Every time I see Mary Pashley, I can’t wait to see her again. Her voice is beautiful and she is very active in the theatre community in Putnam County. The best part about Ms. Pashley is that she is a professor of finance at Tennessee Tech, which totally blows my theory of artsy people (myself included) having zero ability in math and science. Assisting Rona Lisa Perretti in her duties are Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Phil Horn and Mitch Mahoney (who is doing her community service) played by the lovely Nia Kerlegan.
This show was hilarious. Since there are audience volunteer spellers, it seems you never know what’s going to happen. It was a small cast, which was great for the Backdoor Playhouse, and the costuming was adorable. I won’t ruin the story for you by telling you who wins the bee. Or by telling you what happens to each of the spellers. I will suggest you go see this show, which plays through November 12th.