Colgate’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee attracted a large and eager audience to each of its five showings, from November 8-12. The musical, by William Finn, focused on middle school contestants battling for first-place in a spelling bee. Director Simona Giurgea selected this production for its ability to dissect competitiveness and its effects on children and their mental state. However, the musical was lighthearted and humorous throughout.
The musical explored these more serious themes with a breath of levity. Chock-full of clever humor and gimmicky tricks, the show never took itself too seriously, and kept the audience entertained and laughing through both acts. Some high points included sarcastic and often unhelpful definitions from Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by sophomore Steven DeVellis, and the unexpected appearance of Jesus at the plea of a contestant in the second act. Even the show’s improvised audience participation brought humorous interaction as spectators joined the bee contestants in trying to correctly spell words. This element of the show went over well with the audience.
Whether it was sophomore Julia Segal as the lisping Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre or first-year Michael Mullen as the insecure Leaf Coneybear, the cast brought satisfying, larger-than-life personas to the stage to match the wacky feel of the musical. Every character enacted their own unique style of humor that made for an amusing and sometimes kitschy atmosphere.
However, even while being a character-driven comedy, the musical failed to ever effectively progress its characters and left the audience with hollow, underdeveloped arcs often haphazardly thrown into the second act. “The I Love You Song” was arguably the best number in the show because of the powerful vocals and harmonization of senior Julia Feikens with juniors Drew O’Hara and Hailey Park. Even so, its emotional impact was undermined by the lack of sympathy the audience had for the character’s situation, pushed into the background for most of the musical. In focusing on too many unique and quirky characters, the musical sabotages itself in never giving one of them a real direction or emotional connection with the audience.
Still, the show seemed to redeem itself with a fun score, revolving around obscure spellings and character daydreams. These songs were heavily buttressed by the theater’s talented vocalists. Sophomore Abby Freid as Rona Lisa Perretti and first-year Raena LeBourne as Marcy Parks stood out as heavy-hitters, holding strenuous notes with their own unique vocal twinges. Even when some songs veered into trite territory, the actors moved it along with a pleasant pace, engaging the audience and moving the play forward.
“I was laughing for most of the show, and thought the actors were hilarious as their characters,” first-year Gianna Irwin said.
Overall, the musical was a fun way to spend any evening, and audiences definitely walked out with some laughs. Even if the script was lacking in some areas, the acting and singing were on key and made for a comedic show that was definitely worth seeing.
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