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Fun at Putnam’s spelling bee

The Putnam Spelling Bee family with director Katherine Alpert on far right.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - April 5, 2015

By William Finn and Rachel Sheikin

Directed by Katherine Alpert

Brisbane Arts Theatre

Petrie Terrace


Season: March 21-April 19, Duration two hours including interval. Bookings: 07 3369 2344 or email

This was another impressive piece of work from the Arts Theatre. Every member of the cast created a great character, oddball as they were, and they could all sing. There was a little dancing, but the stage really doesn’t allow for a lot of movement with a big cast so it was kept to a minimum.

I checked the program after the show and understood why the show was so good – every actor has a heap of experiences and training, and the director Katherine Alpert knows her way round theatre too. She did an excellent job with her cast.

The concept of the musical is weird it’s about a bunch of American students in the final round of a spelling bee. It was silly, filled with goofy characters, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable silliness that made for a very entertaining evening.

There is no plot as such, just the finalists from varied backgrounds trying to win the gold trophy, and it is the characters that make the fun.

I saw the play for the first time back in 2008 when it was played as one continuous act that ran for one hour 45 minutes. The Arts Theatre production had an interval and ran for just on two hours all up, which I thought was a good idea.

The play includes some audience participation and in the Oscar Theatre production I swore the audience members called up to the stage had been pre-primed, but this time I saw cast members picking on random people to join them on stage. They did have script cards, but were genuine audience members.

The scene is set when six finalists, joined by the four members of the audience, get ready to spell or die. The audience members were given their own odd words to spell. When they failed the cast sang “Goodbye” as they were given a popper drink and sent back to their seats.

Adjudicator of the spelling bee is Vice Principal Douglas Panch, he is a guy with a past and was played nicely by Trent Richards as his hand hovered constantly over to “wrong” bell. He was extremely disappointed every time a word was spelled correctly. Alongside of him is Ms Rona Lisa Peretti, nicely played by Kelsey McDonald. She was a power-suited dominator who had a real fancy for Mitch Mahoney, the community service guy from the wrong side of the tracks, who was also the enforcer. He was played by Stephen Smith.

Then we had the contestants. There was Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the confused girl with two dads who live together in a gay relationship. Samantha Sherrin was perfect for the part and young Alex Watson was terrific as William Barfee, the overweight champ who spelled out the words on the ground with is “magic foot” before he said them out loud.

Isaac Tibbs was Leaf Coneybear, the easygoing contestant who was only walking with the champs by default. It was lovely performance..

Jessica Potts was beautifully wistful as Olive, the brain who is forlornly awaiting the arrival of her always busy father. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

Oddly the pretty young thing has eyes only for the other sadsack, but then William Barfee did have a softer side to his character.

Jarrad LIndsay was Chip, the Boy Scout doomed to failure and he played his role with confidence.

Finally there was Liv Wilson who played Marcy, the pig-tailed schoolgirl with a total focus on winning. I commented on her youth (she is still only 16) and great stage presence when she appeared in The Breakfast Club last year. Nothing has changed; she is a stunning and confident performer.

But, as I said, it was a strong and engaging production with top talent on view.

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