by Terrance Mc Arthur
Spelling bees—some people love them; some people hate them. It all depends on how well you did. But no matter how you finished in your school’s event—win or lose—you’ll find a moment that resonates in the Good Company Players’ musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through May 15.
Director Shawn Williams cast two complete sets of performers for the show, providing a built-in Covid buffer of understudies. The casts alternate performances, and each group is loaded with major talents. Since there are two full casts, my wife and I went to two performances to see everyone and give a fair review (That’s how much we love the theatre.).
(The following list of characters names the performer from the “Letters” cast first, and the “Numbers” cast member second.)
As the host of the bee, a former winner, you have the earthy Emily Pessano and the celestial Amalie Larsen. The reigning champion, a Boy Scout in uniform, who has some trouble with the “clean” part of the Scout Law, Daniel Hernandez is perplexed by the effects of puberty, while Lex Martin is more angry about it. As the daughter of a pair of fathers, Jessica Sarkisian and Kindle Lynn Cowger both struggle with the conflicting drives of the dads—helicopter and nurturing.
Michael Hidalgo and Ben Applegate alternate as a homeschooler, who wears a cape he made himself and who seems demon-possessed when his despair of not knowing a word transforms into a hissing, sinister spewing of correct letters. An unfortunately named (and usually mispronounced) student who visualizes a word by drawing it on the floor of the stage with his “Magic Foot” is brought to arrogant life by Teddy Maldonado and Jacob Phelan. An overachieving polyglot (She speaks many languages) in a school uniform, Maria Monreal and Kaitlin Dean are driven by the character.
As a tender soul, with a working father who may attend if he gets off in time and a mother finding herself in India, Camille Gaston and Chloe Cooper blithely overcome their difficulties. Two GCP giants, Gordon Moore and Terry Lewis, take turns as the vice principal with anger issues announcing the spelling words and their definitions, origins, and a bizarre sentence example. A Comfort Counselor escorts unsuccessful spellers from the stage, and Xavier Gonzalez and Jonathan Padilla have that job in their casts.
As part of the show’s tradition, some audience members are chosen to join in the spelling competition, which adds a wild card element, as the added spellers can be quirky in ways that the script could never imagine. This is the directorial debut for Williams who has worked his way up from the Junior Company to a seasoned performer and propmaster. He keeps things rolling with the proper touch of “Pandemonium.”
Some standouts: Maldonado’s resemblance to Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character from Saturday Night Live, an appearance by Jesus, and Gaston’s powerful voice on “The I Love You Song,” backed by Pessano and Gonzalez as her absent parents–and Larsen and Padilla.backing Cooper.
The Junior Company preshow features four youngsters and a rotating group of grown-up “aunties” performing songs like “A You’re Adorable,” “C Is for Cookie,” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” (You can probably figure out the theme that holds them together).
Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater is at 1226 N. Wishon Ave. at Olive Ave. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee spells F-U-N.
For tickets and further information, go to www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.