“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”; been there – lost! Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin

The William Finn 2005 short musical comedy about a Middle School competition is always a pleasure to witness as the play usually recruits 3 or 4 additional competitors chosen from the audience; and the improvisational ‘please use in a sentence’ bits are always contemporary and hilarious. This scribe participated in just such an event back in 1948. Youngest & smallest contestant; I was the only 6th grader in a Grade Seven Bee. The word ‘Apricot’ screwed me up and I’ve never eaten one since!
Drury Lane’s production under the direction of Gregory Flis is smooth, fast-paced and delightful.

The contestants and moderators of PUTNAM COUNTY

Flis and his cast underscore the angst felt by every young teenager as to their self-esteem; feeling of inferiority; and why they never seem to fit in. Thus, each portrayal has a bundle of complexes that are explicated and elucidated in the solo arias. The most moving of these has to be the Act II “I love You” number. Sung by ‘Olive’ played by Karen Chorney accompanied by Sheila Flis & Joe Balaz, in bit parts as her parents. Flis is the moderator and displays not only a super voice but an innate sense of lyric emphasis in her diction. Balaz’s major role is that of the parolee doing community service who escorts the losers off-stage.
The verbal extemporizations are the explanatory sentences that are supposed to enable the contestants to conceptualize their assigned words. Vice Principal Panch is hilariously portrayed by Tim Denis and audiences will find themselves anxiously anticipating his repartee. Slightly politically incorrect; always non-explanatory; and certainly current, these bon mots should be quoted herein but that would not only be a spoiler – would probably be useless as one imagines many are extemporary and ad-libbed.
Among the competitors, there are three outstanding performances as well as the aforementioned Karen Chorney. We’ve previously seen Vincent Perri in WEST offerings as well as his work with the Oakville Players. In 2th Annual…, he epitomizes the ‘loser’ and the character to which this scribe most identifies. The ‘geek’ of the piece is Jamie Taylor’s ‘William Barfée whose name is naturally continually mispronounced by the vice-Principal. Taylor’s role requires a terpsichorean bent and he possesses all the talent necessary to fully interpret the part.
The scene-stealing cast-member is Aramenta Sobchak whose ‘Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere’ is as funny and pathetic as her character’s on-stage name. Unfortunately, to further describe her interpretation could conceivably be another ‘spoiler’, so – suffice to say she’s definitely the focal point whenever she’s spotlighted, and her ability to carry a note – astounds.
BUT, by mentioning scene-stealing… that honor belongs to an adorable Chloe Milner who was one of the audience participants. Not quite ten, this diminutive lady instinctively made sure to be stage front among the other full-sized cast; always had a smile on her face; and continually appeared on the brink of a giggle. She may have been eliminated, from competition, but certainly took the ‘Miss Congeniality’ award – hands Down.
The four-piece musical background was slightly overpowering during the first act, but seemed technically faultless. There are tempi challenges in the post-interval score but Trevor Price and his support trio facilitated the on-stage performers accomplishing their challenge. The set and props all capture a gymnasium ambience, even to a rear hallway/locker motif. The 25th Annual Putnam etc. will be at Drury Lane until May 27th, and F.Y.I. the venue is cabaret-style.

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