On Friday, April 12, Memorial Auditorium was filled for the debut of Act V’s performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The musical is based on the book by Rachel Sheinkin and was originally performed on Broadway under the direction of Tony-award winner James Lapine.
SU student James Wright directed the Act V performance of the play.
“It has been a wonderful experience and a wild ride to get here,” Wright said.
The play follows the journey of young spellers hoping to be the next Putnam County Spelling Bee champion. The pool of contestants consists of eccentric, lovable characters like the over-achieving Marcy Park, played by junior Carissa Strohecker; the easily distracted, hyperactive Leaf Coneybear, played by senior Robert Hile; the socially awkward, shy Olive Ostrovsky, played by junior Kim MacAlister; Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the product of two gay dads, played by sophomore Samantha Justice; the allergy-prone William Barfee (prounounced Bar-fay), played by junior Andrew Mowen; and Chip Tolentino, a nice, rule-abiding boy struggling with puberty, played by freshman Timothy Hippensteel.
The cast was rounded out nicely with the addition of characters like Mitch Mahoney (junior Vince Raffaele), a rugged ex-prisoner with a soft side doing his community service by serving as the Bee’s “comfort counselor,” giving hugs, Twizzlers and juice boxes to contestants after they fail.
Raffaele played double duty, as he also took on the role of Olive Ostrovsky’s father. His versatility between roles was impressive.
The bee was moderated by the caring, but stern Rona Lisa Peretti (freshman Gabrielle Sheller), No. 1 realtor in Putnam County, and the sharp-tongued, sometimes vulgar Vice Principal Douglas Panch (sophomore Robert Wilson).
Though they were supporting roles, Wilson and Sheller’s chemistry and ability to stay in character, while incorporating improvisation and witty banter was one of the highlights of the show.
Sheller’s ability to portray a very grown, high-power career woman proved that she is wise beyond her years as an actress.
The Saturday evening performance of the show was the “raunchy version.” Most of the R-rated jokes and lines were the work of Wilson.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Wilson said. “We prepared people for an R-rated performance, so they knew before.”
The play was very interactive and relied heavily on audience participation. Matthew Kline and Andrew Cruz played the roles of contestant Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre’s two fathers.
The couple sat in the audience and impressively stayed in character, even when friends attempted to address them by their real names.
The two also shamelessly cheered on their daughter as she dominated the competition in fear of disappointing them.
The acting and dialogue of the show was complemented perfectly by the music. Emotional pieces such as MacAlister’s “The I Love You Song” were balanced by humorous pieces like “My Unfortunate Erection,” performed by Hippensteel.
“The ‘I Love You Song” explained the torn relationship by Ostrovsky’s parents.
Briana Blewett played Ostrovsky’s mother, a free spirit who left her daughter to go on a spiritual quest in India.
Besides the sexual innuendos and risqué jokes, audience members at Saturday night’s performance experienced another treat.
During the closing curtain call, Andrew Mowen surprised his girlfriend, now fiancée, Sharyan Zurita with a marriage proposal.
Zurita was in the audience, surrounded by friends when the cast members each held up poster boards spelling out “Sharyan will you marry me?”
Zurita ran up to the stage and accepted the proposal, leaving the audience standing and clapping in tears.
“It all happened so fast,” Mowen said, overjoyed with emotion.