by Nancy Holley
Special KRL coupon at the end of this article.
Get ready for a romp down memory lane with the Visalia Players’ musical season opener The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Six spellers, adults playing youngsters, arrive at the national contest overseen by Rona Lisa Peretti (Ali Malingen). Rona’s helpers are Douglas Panch (Sean Hopper) the “word giver” and Mitch Mahoney (Cristian Duran) the “comfort counselor.”
The comfort counselor aids those whose spelling skills let them down. Mitch seems perfectly suited for the job because as an ex-con doing community service, he knows a bit about skills that aren’t as sharp as they might be!
Director Corey Ralston, who directed Rent last year, was looking for a smaller show with richer characters when he heard and fell in love with the sound track from Spelling Bee. “When I was loaned the video of the Broadway production, I couldn’t stop laughing. The audience will have a really good time.”
Ralston loves shows with audience participation, and Spelling Bee is no exception. Audience members will be asked to join the national contest, test their spelling skills, and employ the comfort counselor when appropriate. “The audience is put in the place of the characters through participating.”
Ralston believes, as does the cast, that audience members will recognize themselves in the cross section of over-achieving children. Natalie Row, who portrays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (yes that really is her name), says, “The characters are so diverse that there will be one kid to which you will relate. One where you will say – I was that kid in school.”
Row describes Logainne as the youngest contestant and the daughter of gay fathers. “One father is particularly ‘pushy’, and Logainne feels the pressure of trying to be perfect for them.” Most recently Row has been involved with choreography, but came out of “retirement” to do this show because she loves it. “Logainne was at the top of my list because she is so endearing.”
Sergio Garza describes his character, William Barfee, as a nerd who is rude and abrupt as a defense mechanism. “He is very angry, and unfortunately is mean even to those trying to help him.” Garza credits Olive (Kristeina Wolfert) with helping William to grow during the play and understand that he can have friends.
Not all the spellers have the same winning record despite their presence at the national contest. Leaf Coneybear (Henry Gonzales) was really third in his last contest, but the winner and first runner-up were unable to attend the national contest. “It was an amazing surprise.” Gonzales describes Leaf as initially insecure in the song “I’m Not That Smart”, but as time progresses and he spells words correctly, he gains the “courage to go for it.” Gonzales remembers being in spelling bees as a child so the show is nostalgic for him, and he believes it will be for others as well. The remaining spellers are Chip (Ryan Anders) and Marcy (Charmaine Vallado).
Ralston finds directing musicals more difficult than directing dramas or comedies. Supporting him with music and dance are vocal coach Merina Amos, who also plays Olive’s Mom, choreographer Bethany Markham, and a unique three-piece band: pianist Lia Markham, keyboard player Ayla Draper, and drummer Greg Steel. When asked how the band is unique, Ralston replied, “how often are two out of three musicians blind?”
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a play with wonderful music that is “laugh out loud” funny. The show opens at the Ice House Theater at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 17, 2012 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 8/17, 8/18, 8/24, 8/25, 8/31, and 9/1 and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 8/19, 8/26, and 9/2.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.
KRL has been following this production through a series of videos from beginning to end–check them out and watch for a review next week.
Print this page and take to the show to get discount:
Visalia Community Players Two-For-One Coupon
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Based on a book by Rachel Sheinkin
Admit 2 Adults for $14.00
Coupon good for any performance of the play.
One Coupon Per Family
Reservations Suggested – 559-734-3900
Watch for a new Local Live every Wednesday evening at 7!