Keith Dougherty’s review of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

September 13, 2019

County Players

Falls Theatre

Wappingers Falls

     I love going to see shows that I have never seen, especially when they are done as well as this one. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn with a Tony Award winning book by Rachel Sheinkin. I knew I enjoyed County Player’s production but didn’t realize how much until I found myself repeating lines, mimicking movements and checking my calendar to see if I could squeeze in seeing it again.

Competently and seamlessly directed by Jeff Wilson, this very talented cast soared within a simple, yet uplifting premise. This wonderful productionfollows the trials of a troop of teens, each with their own heart-warming, often heart-breaking backstory. This unique group of awkward adolescents must spell their way through a laundry list of words in order to finally be awarded the title of “winner.” When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I was looking forward to each student getting up to spell their next word so we could learn more about what made them so special.

Words are unable to fully describe each character’s exceptional qualities and the expression, “I guess you had to be there” comes to mind. Each of these talented actors “got there” and demonstrated their own brand of quirkiness with skill and obvious dedication to not only their individual characters but how their characters related to the others.

Last year’s spelling bee winner, Chip Tolentino (Irving Zuniga) had a more mature, hormone-themed storyline which Zuniga portrayed comically through song and shared candy. Chloe Kramer, perfecting a lisp, was a joy to watch as Logainne Scwartzandgrubenniere as she suppressed the pressure to triumph imposed on her by her two dads. Although there are worse problems to have, Marcy Park (Jontae Walters) was tired of being the best at everything. When she finally realized she didn’t have to be, the walls came down and Walter’s smile and energy lit up the stage. Olive Ostrovsky (Lisa Delia) arrived late, with her registration fee in question, and neither parent’s support anywhere in sight. Delia handled the nuances to this character with flawless subtlty as well as her unusual chemistry with co-competitor, William Barfee (Dylan Parkin.)

Pronounced Barfay, this student possessed all the qualities of a stereotypical nerd, and then some, and Dylan Parkin mastered every one of them. Again, “I guess you had to be there” but Parkin’s “magic foot” was worth more than the price of admission. It was a treat to watch this artist in action and one of the reasons I would want to see this show again. Bravo!

Another stand-out performance was Thomas O’Leary as the highly awkward, yet irresistible Leaf Coneybear, who only got into the spelling bee because the winner and first runner up had to attend a Bat Mitzvah. O’Leary truly became a highly eccentric teen who clearly made his own clothing. His presence never left the stage, except when he doubled as one of Logainne’s dads.

Rona Lisa Perretti (Amy Schaffer), a county spelling bee winner from years ago, returned to host, assisted by Vice Principal, Douglas Panch (Jeffrey Sculley). Schaffer and Sculley played very well off each other and kept the bee moving with natural comic flair. It was particularly fun to watch Sculley handle the audience members who were called up on stage to portray competing students. Sculley’s comic chops were put to the test and he won. Schaffer’s singing voice was another standout and suited her character well. As Comfort Counselor, Mitch Mahoney, Glen Macken was almost unrecognizable as he amusingly transformed himself into an ex-con handing a juice box to each speller as they were eliminated.

I have yet to mention that this was also a musical and kudos to Musical Director, Karen Sheehy and Choreographer, Denise Wornell. Both these talented women found their cast’s strengths and demonstrated them beautifully on the simple, yet effective set, designed by Jen Mille. Costumes by Rosemary Evaul and Karen Eremin hit the nail on the head. Congratulations to all.

County Players hysterical production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will continue its run through Saturday, September 28th. Tickets are available at the box office (845) 298-1491 or go to                                                                                                                            


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