Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show takes place at the fictional Putnam County Spelling Bee where a group of adolescents are competing for the top prize and the bragging rights that go with it. Originally conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn, the book by Rachel Sheinkin (additional material by Jay Reiss) focuses on the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the six contestants and the three adults who judge the contest and offer support. It also touches upon universal topics, including the subjects of determination and disappointment as well as how people should understand and be able to live with and learn from the shortcomings of their expectations. Finn's score has many upbeat tunes with hilarious lyrics as well as several moving emotional songs that help flesh out the inner feelings of these youngsters.
While not every member of the Brelby cast is an accomplished singer, which makes a few moments in a couple of songs a little rough, the group all work well together. Director Shelby Maticic has added numerous fun touches throughout, as well as some hilarious dance steps. She also ensures that each actor creates a unique yet identifiable character and that the entire group forms a realistic, cohesive unit.
The six adolescents are played by a group of actors ranging in age from mid-teens to late 20s who skillfully portray individuals much younger. With downtrodden eyes and a quiet demeanor, Stephanie Spencer is perfect as the shy and reserved Olive Ostrovsky, who lights up when she finds others around her to connect with. Karson Cook is hilarious as the awkward but sure of himself William Barfee, who uses his "magic foot" to spell out his words, and Alex Tuchi is a bundle of energy as the hyperactive Leaf Coneybear, who claims he isn't that smart but fits in perfectly among these very bright kids. Thea Eigo is sassy and all business as Marcy Park, the youngest contestant who is a smart Catholic school girl who can speak six languages but realizes that there is more to life than being the smartest kid in the room. With a lisp and two overbearing fathers, Aubrea Robards is a gem as the spunky Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, creating a character we can all sympathize with who has to constantly deal with delivering on the expectations of her parents, and Ricco Machado does well as Chip Tolentino, the previous year's winner of the spelling bee who finds his changing hormones overtaking his ability to concentrate.
As the adult characters, Monica Hernandez Bollt injects a huge amount of pride into Rona Lisa Peretti, the lady in charge of the bee and a former winner herself. Devon Mahon humorously plays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, a man who has had some rough experiences in the past and who is responsible for giving the words to the contestants along with their definitions and how they are used in sentences. Mahon delivers these very funny examples expertly. As Mitch Mahoney, the man responsible for making sure that losing contestants are given counseling and a juice box, Kevin Fenderson is a charmer. He also interjects every solo singing moment he has with some terrific riffs.
The show also uses a few volunteers from the audience as additional contestants, and Bollt and Mahon do good work in improvising dialogue that makes these volunteers a part of the show. CJ O'Hara's music direction delivers a nice sound from the onstage band while James Beneze's smart yet simple scenic design and Brian Maticic's beautiful lighting work well for the shifts in tone and the several fantasy moments in the show. Allison Bauer's costumes are fun, and the hair and makeup designs by Alexander Utpadel are superb.
With a talented cast and solid direction that display humor plus a huge amount of sincerity, Brelby's production of the very funny but also very moving The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is charming.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through April 1st, 2017, with performances at 7154 N 58th Drive in Glendale AZ. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781
Director: Shelby Maticic