By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Thirteen years after its Broadway debut, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” keeps going without ever aging.
The adolescent competitors vying for this bit of success are still amusingly awkward and distracted, and the host’s victory in the third annual spelling bee is still as bright as ever in her memory.
So, just as school is ending, 3B Productions brings us back for a spelling bee at the Indoor Maumee Theatre. The show runs Thursday, May 24, through Saturday May 26 at 8 nightly with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, May 27. Visit 3B Productions.org for tickets.
As with other musicals centered on competitions – including last week’s moving “Hands on a Hard Body’ staged by Perrysburg Musical Theatre – this show is really about the game of life. And these competitors are just out of life’s starting gate, but not so young as not to have acquired their first scars.
Leaf Coneybear (Dylan Coale) is the spacey, lovable home school kid, who backed into his place in the bee. As he sings “I’m not too smart,” yet is able to nail some difficult words thanks to a sock puppet.
Marcy Park (Courtney Gilliland) the driven Catholic school girl instead is burdened with her own expectations of prowess in all things – from languages, she speaks six, to sports, she plays several. She’s already placed in the top 10 in the National Bee, and seems to take her return as a given.
Chip Tolentino (Quintin Boullion) also went to the finals, though, Marcy doesn’t remember him. She only remembers the top 10. He’s an upstanding kid, just a bit cocky, an Eagle Scout struggling with the emergence of puberty.
William Barfee (Matthew Johnston) almost won the bee the previous year but had to withdraw for health reasons. He’s a doughy nerd who relies on his “magic foot” to spell out words, a routine that includes a vocal pop whenever he dots an “i.” But he’s light on his feet when he launches into the soft show number celebrating that magic foot.
His physical opposite is the shy, slight, uncertain Olive Ostrovsky (Cayla Kale), who keeps waiting for her father to show up and pay the entry fee. She saves a seat for her mother as well even though she’s off seeking higher spiritual understanding at an ashram in India.
Logainne SchwartzandGrubinere (Sarah Pettee) also has family issues. She is the child of two doting dads. Dan Dad (Brian Jones) is nurturing and protective and Carl Dad (Bob Marzola-Hughes) is hypercompetitive, to the point of cheating to give his girl a leg up.
Pettee delivers with wonderful physical comedy as she navigates all this, expressed in “Woe Is Me.”.
Yes, the script plays on stereotypes for laughs, but the cast members come through to give their characters comic individuality.
This circus – aptly depicted in the number “Pandemonium” – is presided over by adults who themselves need supervision. Rona Lisa Peretti (Hannah Quinn) is the overbearing former winner who serves as host, providing inappropriate introductory comments for contestants. Also scoring high on the inappropriate scale is Douglas Pinch (Andrew Austin) a vice principal with anger management problems, who is allowed to return after unspoken misbehavior in his past. His sentences using the spelling words ad impromptu humor.
Then there’s Mitch, the “comfort counselor,” who is doing court ordered community service. Nathan Wright reprises this role from the 2015 Bowling Green State University production.
He displays the right mix of menace and maybe a little empathy. Wright gets to display his ample singing voice on the gospel-flavored “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.”
He also plays Olive’s father in the touching “I Love You Song” during which Olive, her father, and her mother (Lauren DePorre) conduct a family counseling session. Nothing is resolved.
In the end of “The 25t Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” we do have a winner, and a runner up, and then get to learn what happens to the contestants post bee. Happy to report, the kids mostly end up all right. Unlike the play they get to grow up.