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Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Directed by Tom Weissgerber
September 14 to 30, 2012
Photos By Carroll Studios Of Photography
Volunteer of the Production
The Orchestra Tells Us About The Show
Sponsored In Part By
WCT projects are supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.
By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
September 20, 2012
WAUKESHA - The Waukesha Civic Theatre has launched a very lively show in “The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee.” There have been movies made about this phenomenon, but this is the first musical geared for an adult audience. When it first hit Broadway in 2005, it ran for three years and won two Tony awards.
In the past year, this same play has graced the stages of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and the Lake Country Playhouse. It has a lot of humor and, at times, a lot to think about when it comes to the pluses and minuses of competition.
The cast consists of six main competitors and four more people drawn from the audience, plus the organizer, the word reader and the comforter, who deals with those who are eliminated. He gives them a hug and a box of juice.
Each of the characters is well developed, and we grow to care about all of them and their fates in the spelling bee and in their lives.
Paula Garcia sets the stage with her take-charge attitude and her strong voice. Her helper, Vice Principal Douglas Pance, played by Christopher Elst, is great at giving the definitions of the words. His crusty, no-nonsense manner adds a lot of humor to the proceedings. Mitch Mahoney, so strikingly created by the inimitable Corey Richards, is on probation and is doing his hours of community service. We are intrigued by his mix of bravado and compassion. We also are deeply impressed with his vocals.
The three male contestants - Chip Tolentino, Leaf Coneybear and William Barfee - are memorably rendered by James Carrington, Kevin Gadzalinski and Max Kurkiewicz. Their shenanigans - the Boy Scout uniform, the Superman outfit and spelling with his magic foot, respectively, all make their unique mark. Carrington even amused us during the intermission.
The three female contestants had all been pushed by parents to be high achievers. Marcy Park (Allison Chicorel) knows six languages, won all possible honors and is an intellectual wizard, but she learns that being imperfect once in a while takes off a lot of pressure. Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Jacqueline Boelkow) is an impressive, dedicated social activist. She is tiny, but very spunky. The third female is Olive Ostrovsky (Gabbie Levine), a young girl trying so hard to gain her parents’ love and attention. The trio with her and her parents, played by Paula Garcia and Corey Richards, is in sharp contrast with the rest of the show. It is very beautifully executed and heart-wrenching.
A very able combo provides the accompaniment: Elna Hickson, Patrick Hopkins, Glen Quarrie, Stacey Sudbrink and Donna Kummer conducting. They were right on. Musically, the show is supreme. Comically, it is well-timed.
In terms of its entertainment value, the audience loved, loved, loved every minute of it. Kudos to director Thomas Weisgerber and his talented technical staff.
By Marilyn Jozwik - WaukeshaNOW Theater Critic
Sept. 18, 2012
I'm becoming a big fan of director Tom Weissgerber.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at Waukesha Civic Theatre is the third show of Weissgerber's I've seen including Theatre on Main's "Rent" and "Cabaret." Each has been notable for wringing out every ounce of energy from the performers.
If the characters he's helped mold are going to make a mistake, it's going to be big one because each character is big and bold, crisply defined and gives 110 percent.
"Spelling Bee" is the perfect vehicle for Weissgerber, with its cast of characters featuring six middle school students - each with a distinct personality as the navigate their awkward youth - in a spelling bee, plus the three people who run the event. Four audience members were also selected - apparently at random - to join the bee on opening night.
The kids are played by adults who look hilarious in their kid outfits - from pigtails and knee highs to a too-tight scout uniform.
Despite the outlandish garb, silly songs and hilarious words and usages in sentences, there is a lot of serious commentary going on as each character's idiosyncrasies and back stories are revealed. One has a "magic foot" that he uses to spell out the words before announcing the spelling. Another seems possessed as he blurts out the letters, surprising even himself with his expertise.
Each character brings a load of baggage and youthful angst to the stage - one is being raised by two dads, one is brilliant but socially inept, yet another has always been expected to be perfect in everything she does.
Setting the tone for a really fun show is Paula Garcia who plays Rona Lisa Perretti, a spelling bee winner in her youth who returns to host the county bee at Putnam Valley Middle School (home of the Piranhas, we learn from the banners on the very sharp A.J. Simon set, covered in muted shades of red and blue with white accents).
Garcia, like most of the characters, is funny before she opens her mouth, with her auburn wig that rises above her head like an atomic bomb mushroom. Garcia's character is perky and self-satisfied as she adds humorous asides preceding each speller. For one of the audience member's turns at the microphone, she offered, commenting on his bland outfit, that he "looks forward to the day when his favorite fashions come out in color." For another contestant from the audience she wise-cracked, "Doreen's favorite color is denim."
Christopher Elst as Vice Principal Douglas Panch presents the words to the spellers, sometimes with their meanings and usage in sentences. These presentations are often hilarious, especially with Elst's deadpan approach.
Each actor has channeled his/her inner middle schooler to create distinct, delightful characters including Max Kurkiewicz as William Barfee, Jacqueline Boelkow as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Schwarzy), James Carrington as Chip Tolentino, Allison Chicorel as Marcy Park, Kevin Gadzalinski as Leaf Coneybear and Gabbie Levine as Olive Ostrovsky. Corey Richards rounds out the cast as Mitch Mahoney, the roughneck doing community service as the bee's Comfort Counselor.
The music in the show is often raucous and upbeat. Although the show is bereft of any hummable tunes it is filled with clever lyrics and unusual harmonies. Musically, this cast is top-notch, handling some really difficult harmonies and melodies with ease under the direction of Donna Kummer.
Choreography was also executed with precision on opening night.
There were also some very cool visual effects in this show, like the slow motion sequence with the spellers and the haze-filled entrance of Jesus in another scene. Sound, too, was crisp catching all fast-paced lyrics and dialogue. Aaron Schmidt handled the lighting and sound.
The set, too, was well conceived and easy on the eyes with fun details like the Piranhas logo on the gym's wood floor and a sponsor's banner that reads "The Putnam Optometrists: You've got to see us to believe us."
The show, from start to finish, never lagged in energy. You could almost heardirector Weissgerber encouraging his troops: "That's good. Now give me more."
And that spelled success.
Christopher was a positive source of energy for the show. He was willing to go the extra mile to make this production a success. Chris was supportive of cast and crew alike. He helped with set up, moved equipment when needed, and was always sticking around to clean up. On stage, he assisted fellow actors when asked and tried new things to improve the quality of the production.