By Cindy Whitehair
Last night, my husband and I found ourselves at Midvale Main Street Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—and it was a night spelled F-U-N. It is our first visit to MMST and we were quite taken with the venue. It’s small and intimate venue and does a lot of little things right. They alternate rows of folding chairs at long tables with padded “comfy” chairs with small shared tables. It’s a very homey venue that uses its space well.
One of the unusual aspects of Spelling Bee is that some members of the audience are invited on stage to be “contestants” in the spelling bee, along with the actor spellers. Our spellers William Barfee (Jeremy Heaps), Chip Tolentino (Tommy Kay), Leaf Coneybear (Micah Taylor), Olive Ostrovsky (Rylee Jensen), Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Taylor Lawrence), and Marcy Park (Kylee Robinson) are all your typical middle school geeky AV Club rejects. Rounding out the cast are the “adults in the room” teacher (and winner of the 3rd Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) Rona Lisa Peretti (Hannah Roskelley), Assistant Princpal Douglas Panch (Jourdan Dixon) and hall proctor Mitch Mahoney (Dustin Bolt). All of the characters have their own eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, which is one of the things that makes this show so unique.
The set (Jerrod Dew) is simple – a middle school gym with bleachers for the spellers and desks and chairs for the adults – but still detailed enough to draw you into their world. The basketball hoop (center stage) let you know exactly where you were – it is a brilliant touch. The lighting (Ryan Fallis) is perfect to continue what the set started. It is not perfect stage lighting, but it is perfect gymnasium lighting. The sound is excellent. You can hear all the actors well enough to wonder–were they mic’d or not? And whenyou hear feedback, is it intentional? Ever heard kids handle a hand mic? It’s painful. The beautiful thing about the technical aspect of this show is that the things that are not meant to draw your focus didn’t. Too many places love to have the glorious set that draws your attention away from the actors. The technical aspects of this show are a perfect complement to the talent onstage.
Speaking of the talent onstage – where to start. These characters are all so dynamic and different and the cast members really do an amazing job drawing those characters out. Robinson’s Marcy is driven, determined and a little angry, which is a departure from recent roles we’ve seen her in. Lawrence does a wonderful job with her character, Logainne. When you have a character that is supposed to have a lisp it’s often hard to be understood. She balances that well. Jensen’s Olive starts quietly in the first act and by the time she gets to her feature song, “The I Love You Song”, she sprouts her wings and soars. Taylor’s brightness and innocence (his smile is electric) light up the stage as Leaf Coneybear. He captures the age of his character perfectly – with a super hero cape and a wave. Heaps has his work cut out for him in this show with William Barfee. The character is a Borscht Belt comedian with a case of chronic post nasal drip—and he captures the combination with great aplomb. Plus the “Magic Foot” is not that easy to do! Kay’s Chip is so straight-laced (in an unconventional crowd) that he sometimes can’t relate to the others without poking, pushing or throwing something at someone. In other words, he’s a typical middle school boy.
The so-called adults in the room add a whole new level to the show. Dixon as the reader is a slightly creepier version of Garrison Keillor but his ad-libbing of words, definitions, and sentences really steals the show. Roskelley’s reactions to Dixon (and to Mahoney) were priceless and her voice is amazing. She makes that sweet, clear tone seem effortless (and we all know it’s not). Bolt has three roles – Mahoney, one of Logainne’s fathers (Taylor was the other) and Olive’s father. Mahoney is a wonderfully comedic role (as someone doing this as community service) but it was in “The I Love You Song” (with Roskelley and Jensen) where you sit up and took notice. The harmonies in that trio were the highlight of the second act.
What I found to be most striking about this show is how much fun the cast is having. You can see that this is a cast that enjoys working together and is having a great time bringing these characters to life. The sense of fun that they are having is what makes this show special. Director Tammy Jackson Ross’ best decision was putting this particular cast together. They are what makes her show shine and she should be very proud of the job they are doing. One of the challenges of this show is to capture the age of the kids. They don’t always sing perfectly on pitch and their movement is often awkward, making choreography and music direction difficult. That said, Hannah Bayles (Music Director) and Alexandra Zinov (choreographer) perfectly capture the goofy nature of kids. The costumes (Jan Harris) add to it with super hero capes, untucked shirts, Catholic School dresses and wild colors.
Midvale Main Street Theater often has edgy shows, and Spelling Bee does have one song that may be a little much for tweens in the audience, so you may want to Google it and check for yourself. Other than that, Bee is family-friendly and very fun. G-O see B-E-E soon to see what spells F-U-N in M-I-D-V-A-L-E.
The Midvale Main Street Theatre presents The 25th Annual Putnam Count Spelling Bee, Music and Lyrics by William Finn, Book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by Jay Reiss
The Midvale Main Street Theatre, 7711 Main Street, Midvale UT 84047
January 11-20, 2018 7:30 PM
Tickets: $22.00 and are available online
Midvale Main Street Theatre Facebook Page
The 25th Annual Putnam Count Spelling Bee Facebook Event