This week, University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music (CCM) opened their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Featuring music and lyrics written by William Finn with a book by Rachel Sheinkin, this musical comedy follows six students as they compete in a fictional spelling bee set in the gymnasium of Putnam Valley Middle School. Along with the six students we also have two adults who act as the spelling bee hosts and another adult who we come to find out is at the bee to obtain community service hours.
This is a show filled with so much heart with actors who truly embrace the world of their characters. Before the show even starts, the actors come out in character walking the space and interacting with the audience. While it’s a small moment in the grand scheme of things, I think there’s something to be said about the ways that actors embody their characters without even saying a word.
The Story and Music
The opening number, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” sets up the world of the show introducing each of the contestants and welcomes 4 audience members to the stage where they compete in the bee. As each audience member is eventually dismissed, they get serenaded by Mitch Mahoney (played by Sam Yousuf), one of the three main adult characters.
“…Spelling Bee” truly encapsulates what musical theatre *should* be. The show has such high energy and it’s impossible to not find yourself lost in the musical moments. Composer and lyricist, William Finn has a way of pulling you in with his infectious music and witty lyrics. Finn’s use of comedy within his score is unmatched, particularly because how the lyrics can expand on what makes these characters tick. From “Pandemonium” to the “I Love You Song” each number shows different sides of the contestants.
Theatre, at its core, should be about storytelling and about breathing life into art that heals. Whether you’re on Broadway or in community theatre, the best theatre is theatre that lights a flame in you and … Spelling Bee does just that.
Sam Yousef (Mitch Mahoney), Julia Schick (Rona Lisa Perretti), JT Langlas (Jesus Christ), Dan Klimko (Vice Principal Douglas Peach), Joey Baciocco (Leaf Coneybear), and Annalise Prentiss (Marcy Park) gave a stellar performance embodying their roles right down to the smallest of gestures.
Schick’s take on “My Favorite Moment of the Bee” was flawless and felt effortlessly. While Baciocco’s “I’m Not That Smart” showcases his comedic talent and strong singing voice.
Production Team for …Spelling Bee
Director and choreographer, Chaz Wolcott, did a beautiful job bringing this work from page to stage. His direction shines brightly throughout the entire production from the preshow moment right down to the final scene.
Costume designer, Corey Cochran, use of bright vibrant colors reflects the youthfulness of the contestants. Cochran juxtaposes this with a more mature look for the adult characters while highlighting Jesus (played by Langlas) through an eccentric robe like garment that places them front and center at one point during the 2-act show.
Scenic designer, Regan Densmore’s immersive set makes you believe you’re in an actual middle school gymnasium with actors who utilize every aspect of the playing space.
When you pull each of these elements together, you get a show unlike any other.
Don’t walk… Run and witness the work of art that is “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” presented by The University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music Musical Theatre Department.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs from November 8th through the 12th featuring a run time of 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets can be found here.