Miraculous— (adjective.) “performed by or involving a supernatural power or agency. Of the nature of a miracle; marvelous. Having or seeming to have the power to work miracles.” This current production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a miraculous show put forth by Artistic Synergy. M-I-R-A-C-U-L-O-U-S. Produced by Melissa Broy Fortson, with Direction by Atticus Cooper Boidy, and Musical Direction by Rachel Sandler, the astonishing talent, the heartfelt performances, and the overall feeling of this production is truly, as stated, miraculous.
Overextended— (verb used with object.) “to extend, reach, or expand beyond a proper, safe, or reasonable point; to obligate (oneself) to more activities, work, etc., than one has time for or can accomplish well.” Director Atticus Cooper Boidy has overextended his efforts by serving as the show’s director, set designer, lighting consultant, and choreographer, resulting in uneven production qualities and unclear guidance, which is a disheartening disservice, despite the best of intention, to an extremely talented cast. O-V-E-R-E-X-T-E-N-D-E-D. Boidy puts forth a slightly haphazard set, which ultimately does serves its purpose. The colors are strangely bold, warring shades of blue and orange but the end result is a school gymnasium and considering how thinly stretched Boidy’s resources go with the production, A for effort. The real problem with Boidy’s overextending himself for this production is the show’s choreography. The dancing is overcomplicated for the simplicity of the show, particularly for the opening half of the number “Pandemonium”, which does resolves itself by the conclusion of the number. “I Speak Six Languages” is a secondary example of this intricately complex overdoing of the show’s choreography. Boidy has big visions but currently lacks the understanding how to execute them all at once with balance in mind. Less is more, a lesson that will be forthcoming for this multi-hat-wearing director. The show’s lighting plots are equally overcomplicated (by way of Daniel DeJong), though at times find balance in their fades and color washes. Ultimately, Boidy’s best work is his casting choices. Sticking nine powerhouse belting individuals who are chock full of talent and perform superbly in these roles is what truly saves the show, making it stellar.
Savior— (noun) “a person who saves, rescues, or delivers.” Musical Director Rachel Sandler is a true savior of this production with her pristine understanding of how to blend sublime harmonies and marry the intricately gorgeous sounds of her nine talented performers. S-A-V-I-O-R. Sandler is the crowning gem in the production team for this performance; the swells of sound, the emotional intensity that drives the group numbers, and the overall smoothness that is created when the company sings is a balm of beauty upon this show. While the microphones (by way of Sound Designer Bill Bisbee) are a bit overkill considering the powerhouse belters in the cast and the small playing space, Bisbee makes the right call by using them, to help with the space’s overall underwhelming acoustics and during group numbers where one soloist has to be heard over the other eight performers.
Synergistic— (adjective.) “pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling synergy; acting as or producing synergy: the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.” The ensemble cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a synergistic work of art when it comes to creating this show. S-Y-N-E-R-G-I-S-T-I-C. Costumes, hair, make-up, and props all derive from a collaborative effort of the cast, as do the heart and soul of their performances. Working together to support one another’s characters on the stage, this talented cast of nine delivers a magnificent performance with excellently fabricated characters, exquisite vocal demonstrations, and overall honest heart.
Sapless— (adjective.) “lacking vitality or spirit; insipid.” Scott Sanders approaches the character of Vice Principal Douglas Panch with a sapless verve, making him dull and listless throughout the production, which creates a cataclysmic point of dynamism once Panche erupts in his temper-tantrum a little later on in the performance. S-A-P-L-E-S-S. Sanders takes a risk with this character choice, but it is one that pays off because of the aforementioned explosion featured later on in the show. His singing voice is clear, and his utter lack of enthusiasm toward the children is a nice humorous tone, albeit a deadpan one. While the scripted layers of ‘scummy creep’ that often accompany Panche are absent in Sanders’ performance (a seemingly questionable directorial choice), this does not ultimately detract from the character, at least not until the very end when the cast plays “where are they now”, wherein Panche’s confession falls short of the mark as there is no build-up to it during the show’s natural evolution.
Rugged— (adjective.) “having a roughly broken, rocky, hilly, or jagged surface; full of hardship and trouble; severe.” Mitch Mahoney (Jim Gerhardt) has a ferociously rugged exterior but don’t let it fool you because inside— he’s equally as tough but with a kind heart of gold. R-U-G-G-E-D. Gerhardt tackles the role with vigorous aplomb, creating this almost jaded post-punk rocker figure, who’s doing time for some unspoken crime. There is an oddly juxtaposed sincerity in Gerhardt’s Mitch, and you sort of feel it when he hugs/squeezes-to-death disqualified/loser students; ironically enough it works in a fascinating and versatile way. The true diamond in the rough of Gerhardt’s performance is his rocker vocals which rage out, channeling a Judas-style rebel for his verses of “Pandemonium” and his big Act I Finale solo, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.”
Neurotic— (noun.) “a neurotic person; having highly excitable tendencies; prone to being high-strung.” Poor little Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Amy Haynes Rapnicki) is driven to extremely neurotic states by her overly-invested, hyper-intense dads. N-E-U-R-O-T-I-C. Rapnicki’s portrayal of Logainne is one for the books, with the highly affected vocal lisp and her over-the-top facial expressions. It would be easy for Rapnicki to pull this role off as a caricature, but she finds a grounding point of humanity in Logainne, which makes the audience feel a great deal for her. Whenever Logainne is in a scene with her two dads Rapnicki’s facial expressions are priceless, as they open the window to the character’s soul and really let the audience see the worry, troubles, and overall stress that this young speller is experiencing. “Woe is Me”, Logainne’s signature song, is performed with full-force energy in the hands of Rapnicki.
Mercurial— (adjective.) “changeable; volatile; animated; sprightly; quick-witted.” The mercurial performance of Leaf Coneybear as given by Matt Wetzel is fascinating beyond compare, tugging at the heartstrings whilst simultaneously gut-punching the funny bone. M-E-R-C-U-R-I-A-L. Wetzel approaches Leaf Coneybear from a solid, internal point of earnest honesty and raw truth. Though there is that exasperated, over-the-top edge to his portrayal, this farcical caricature of Leaf does not dominate the presentation but rather compliments it. Wetzel’s simplistically beautiful voice is perfect for “I’m Not That Smart” but there is a surprising sincerity behind both the number and his overall being as Leaf. By humanizing Leaf to an empathetic level, Wetzel creates a whole new and exciting experience with this otherwise comically conscripted plot-foil.
Fulminatory— (adjective.) “explosive; to be descriptive of fulminate— meaning to issue thunderously; to explode.” Chip Tolentino (Max Wolfe) hits his fulminatory capacity not once, not twice, but thrice in this show, vocally erupting like Vesuvius on multiple occasions. F-U-L-M-I-N-A-T-O-R-Y. Wolfe’s Chip is nothing short of sublime when it comes to the way he tackles that ridiculous number which opens Act II, “My Unfortunate Erection.” With insane vocal sustains, reverberant vocal power, and an overall serious command of his breathing to belt and wail away both in that number and in the background of “Pandemonium”, Wolfe just knocks it out of the park. And he fully physically commits to the character description of being a baseball champ! (No, seriously— if you’re seated in the first few rows of the audience, you might consider bringing a catcher’s mitt to avoid getting a candy bag to the face at like 90 mph.) Really engaged with the Chip character in the most hilarious ways possible, Wolfe is a real knockout in this role.
Excogitate— (verb.) “to think out; devise; invent; to study intently or carefully in order to in order to grasp or comprehend fully.” While it is naturally understood that each of the spellers proficiently excogitate each and every word in the dictionary, Lindsey Litka is superlative when she excogitates to make Atticus Boidy’s unique choice of Marcy Park work in this production. E-X-C-O-G-I-T-A-T-E. Marcy Park, traditionally a preparatory or Catholic school girl, is removed from that stereotype and directorially transitioned into a hyper-athlete, which just doesn’t seem to gel with all of the other characters in the script, but Litka’s vast and versatile stage capabilities makes the choice a functional one. The really stunning moment in Litka’s performance is not her stellar voice radiating all throughout “I Speak Six Languages” but rather the gushing “OMG, JESUS!” moment where the character’s original Catholic roots shine through in an exuberant fan-girl nature. Litka brings a dervish of personality and persona to the character in addition to her pop-modern belttress voice, which only adds to the extraordinary sounds created in this cast.
Cynosure— (noun.) “an object at the focal point of attention; something that is used as a guide; something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc.; something serving for guidance or direction.” Ashley Gerhardt’s Rona Lisa Peretti is a radiant beacon of cynosure in this production. C-Y-N-O-S-U-R-E. Gerhardt presents this narrative lighthouse of a character with heartwarming endearment. It is clear that her Rona has a compassion and commitment to these children in a motherly yet quirky fashion that is all her own. When she sings her way through “My Favorite Moment of the Bee” it is delightful and almost hypnotic, beckoning the audience and spellers along into her story. The crowning glory of Gerhardt’s musical performance in this production is her duet/trio with Olive (Caitlin Grant) and Father (Jim Gerhardt) together in “The I Love You Song.” Musical bliss rings out true in this perfectly blended harmonies and Gerhardt’s raw emotions float to the top of her song with remarkable ease. Gerhardt also possesses a witty bone of cleverness, creating zippy little zingers and nifty little nuggets of ‘facts’ when guest spellers are called to the microphone.
Showboat— (noun.) “a person, especially a thespian, who performs in an ostentatiously, sensational manner, calculated to draw attention; over-the-top.” William Barfee (Tommy Malek) is the most unintentionally-intentional showboat in the history of Spelling Bee. S-H-O-W-B-O-A-T. Too perfectly hysterical for words, Malek is a hot mess in the best way possible, with his completely affected William Barfee from his 100-lb hairsprayed-higher-than-Tracy-Turnblad-hairdo all the way down to those obscenely hideodeous argyle knee-high socks. Malek’s vocal brilliance makes “Magic Foot” the big, show-stopping number, and you just want more of that gorgeous sound coupled with all of his physical animations, which are sheer and utter hilarity. His nuanced performance of William Barfee— watch those facials and try not to laugh, I dare you— is performance perfection. Too comic for words, while everyone is exceptional in their roles, Malek is the showboating standout of the performance.
Timorous— (adjective.) “subject to uncertainty; timid; characterized by or indicating shyness.” Caitlin Grant may master the timorous nature of the Olive Ostrovsky character, but when it comes to vocally slaying Olive’s songs she is anything but shy. T-I-M-O-R-O-U-S. Grant is a beautifully balanced performer in the role of Olive. There is a meekness to the character that lends itself to the style Grant is bringing to the table, especially when she starts in with her rendition of “My Friend, The Dictionary.” Her meet-cute awkwardly adorable inadvertent flirtations with the William Barfee character are the perfect example of her adorkable introversion timidly creeping forward into something more suitably social. Grant has a glorious voice which well serves the aforementioned number, as well as her spot in the trio “The I Love You Song.” The way Grant ends this song, defining and spelling the word chimerical, is truly a tearful moment, and really gets you right in the feelings.
Stupendous— (adjective.) “causing amazement; astounding; marvelous; amazingly large or great.” Despite some technical hiccups and directorial missteps, ASoB’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a stellar and stupendous production. S-T-U-P-E-N-D-O-U-S.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays through March 17, 2019 with Artistic Synergy of Baltimore in the basement of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church— 8212 Philadelphia Road in Rosedale, MD. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (410) 833-5181 or by purchasing them online.