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Can You Spell H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S? The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 17th, 2012
Special to The Alexandria Times 
 

Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti) and Jeff Davis (Vice Principal Douglas Panch) - Photos by Shane Canfield

Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti) and Jeff Davis (Vice Principal Douglas Panch) - Photos by Shane Canfield

For those of us whose middle school memories harken to a time of anxieties, crushing insecurities and the dread of not fitting in, have I got a musical for you!  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will remind you that you have plenty of avatars in the challenging world of teenage angst.  Dorks, dweebs, do-gooders and overachievers will be your new BFFs in this uproarious production featuring the oddball world of spelling bee competitions.  (Note to parents of aspiring qualifiers: The annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is held right here in Washington, DC.)

That the characters in this musical are decidedly unique doesn’t get in the way of composer William Finn and conceptualizer Rebecca Feldman tapping into universal neuroses.  We really do feel their pain, squirming and agonizing over obscure words like capybara or hasenpfeffer.  Can you use that in a sentence?

The twist is that four actual audience members are brought on stage to join the “bee”.  Opening night had the beautiful blonde theatre reviewer, Jeanne Theismann, who when introduced by Vice Principal Panch, was skewered with an intro as, “the cheerleader who hopes to marry the quarterback,” a reference to her ex-husband former Washington Redskin, Joe Theismann.  She played along good-heartedly till her elimination when Panch declared,  “All the 7th Grade boys are in love with this brunette!”  Gales of laughter from the in-on-the-joke audience.

Carl Williams (Mitch Mahoney), Josh Goldman (Leaf Coneybear), Eric Hughes (Chip Tolentino), Matt Williams (William Barfee), Claire O’Brien (Marcy Park), Maureen Rohn (Olive Ostrovsky), Emily “EJ” Jonas (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere), and Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti)   Photos by Shane Canfield

Carl Williams (Mitch Mahoney), Josh Goldman (Leaf Coneybear), Eric Hughes (Chip Tolentino), Matt Williams (William Barfee), Claire O’Brien (Marcy Park), Maureen Rohn (Olive Ostrovsky), Emily “EJ” Jonas (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere), and Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti) Photos by Shane Canfield

Along with the six quirky students and their super-cool, jive-talking professional “Comfort Counselor”, Mitch Mahoney (Carl Williams), they share the stage with Vice Principal Douglas Paunch (Jeff Davis) and Secretary Rona Lisa Peretti (Amy Conley).

You’ll meet Chip (Eric Hughes) whose budding adolescent crush will dredge up all the awkwardness of early testosterone unpredictability and Logianne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Emily “E. J.” Jonas), a goofy pig-tailed Catholic School conformist who boasts a pair of bossy dads.  Her fail-safe technique: To pre-spell words on her arm.

And then there’s the pretty and terminally insecure, Olive Ostrovsky (Maureen Rohn), whose abandonment by her ashram-trotting mother and distant father, bonds her with a dictionary.  Olive talks into her hand to puzzle out the words, while the user-friendly, Leaf Coneybear (Josh Goldman) has successful eleventh-hour visions for memory aids.  Leaf is home-schooled and makes his own capes.  Are you reading a Charles Shultzian presence yet?

For the sestalingual Marcy Park (Claire O’Brien), rocking her cheerleader outfit, it’s all tediously beneath her.  The hyper-accomplished, classical piano playing, baton-twirler informs us, “I’m sick and tired of being the best!”

And you’ll want to meet the adorably gawky William Barfee (Matt Williams), “It’s pronounced Bar-fey, ”he corrects, employing the Gallic accent aigu.  He’s the personification of teenage bluff and bluster and a shoo-in representative for the Lollipop Guild.  But his peanut allergies seem to get the best of him until he’s given the word “antihistamine”.  “Luck of the draw,” he stammers before acing it.

Maureen Rohn (Olive Ostrovsky) and Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti) - Photos by Shane Canfield

Maureen Rohn (Olive Ostrovsky) and Amy Conley (Rona Lisa Perretti) - Photos by Shane Canfield

Crack cast members nail their character’s kooky persona to the letter, and the entire hyper-talented bunch sing their faces off through thirteen riotous numbers.  Watch for ingénue Maureen Rohn who tears the roof off with the heart-breaking “The I Love You Song”.

Producer Mary Beth Smith-Toomey, Director Frank D. Shutts II, and Music Director Christopher Tomasino can add another notch to Little Theatre’s long-standing mega-repertoire of successes!

At The Little Theatre of Alexandria 600 Wolfe Street through February 4th.  For tickets and information call 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

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