by Lorie Lewis Ham
If you’re looking for a fun, and very funny, night at the theatre you should head over to the Ice House in Visalia and check out The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
I had the pleasure of following this show behind the scenes for several weeks from beginning to end doing a series of videos and video interviews. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot I didn’t know, and it reminded me just how much work goes into putting a show together. All that hard work definitely paid off. Check out our video adventure on our YouTube channel to see what I mean.
I have to say when I first heard about this show I didn’t know if I would like it. It’s set at a spelling bee obviously, with adults playing children, and I just didn’t see how that could be all that interesting. Well I must say I was very wrong. Not only is it absolutely hilarious, but the songs are catchy and fun–the song “Pandemonium” is still running through my head–and at many points it’s also touching.
The children in the story each have their own issues and we get to know a bit about their backgrounds along the way. There’s William Barfee (Sergio Garza), who is made fun of because of his name, among other things, and who uses his “Magic Foot” to help him spell (“Magic Foot” is another favorite song). There’s Leaf Coneybear (Henry Gonzales) who is an awkward, out of place, home schooled boy who only got to the Spelling Bee because the top two winners of his district spelling bee couldn’t make it. Leaf’s family makes him feel like he’s stupid. Logainne SchwartsandGrubenierre (Natalie Row) is the daughter of two gay dads who have always pushed her and made her feel like she can’t be a loser because no one loves a loser. And poor little Olive (Kristeina Wolfert) has absentee parents who are never there for her. There’s also overachieving Marcy Park (Charmaine Vallado), and last year’s champion Chip Tolentino (Ryan Anders) who has problems of his own. Add in some dysfunctional adults and you have The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.Leaf and Olive were absolutely adorable, I loved Logainne’s strength, and the way the kids grow and what they learn from the experience is heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking. The adults are Rona Lisa Peretti (Ali Malingen)–a former Spelling Bee champion, vice principal Doug Panch (Sean Hopper) who reads the words, definitions and sentences (which was one of the funniest things in the show), and Mitch Mahoney (Cristian Duran) is the comfort counselor (loved his song “Prayer Of The Comfort Counselor”). Rounding out the cast is Merina Amos who plays Olive’s mom in “The I Love You Song.” Everyone in the show did a wonderful job!
It was incredible seeing this show come together and major kudos go out to director Corey Ralston and assistant director Jennifer Toledo, along with all of the rest of the crew and band.
This show has a few moments that aren’t really small children appropriate, but it’s a perfect show for teens on up and one you won’t want to miss. If you feel like laughing like crazy, enjoying some fun music, and a heartwarming story, do not miss The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Be warned, there are audience volunteers so you better brush up on your spelling.
Remaining performances are August 24, 25, 31 and September 1 at 7:30 p.m. and August 26 and September 2 at 2 p.m. at the Visalia Ice House. More info can be found on KRL’s local theatre event page and The Visalia Community Players website.
Check out a preview article here on KRL for a KRL reader ticket discount for this show!
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.
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