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Review - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Top scores for BMT’s Spelling Bee

By Liv Wilson

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Music and Lyrics by William Finn

Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Directed by Jesse Bradford

Music Directed by Mark Beilby

Choreographed by Niamh Cadoo-Dagley

Brisbane Musical Theatre

Emerge Church in Warner

Season: July 7-9.

An eclectic group of sixth-graders arrives at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, each

eager to win for very different reasons. Sweet and shy Olive brings only her best friend (the

dictionary) with her to the bee; bold and hyperallergic speller William Barfee uses his "magic foot" to propel him to greatness; former champion Chip is struggling with his burgeoning puberty; easily distracted Leaf is unconvinced that he's smart enough to be a challenger; overachiever Marcy is disappointed by her consistent success; and politically aware Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre only wants to impress her gay dads. In hilarious, touching, and catchy songs, each speller reveals his/her hopes, struggles, and passions as they make their way through the competition.

Brisbane Musical Theatre has transformed their stage into a ultra-competitive, energetic and highly entertaining sixth grade spelling bee tournament (slightly on the X-Rated side of things!). The entire production was hugely enjoyable and had the audience in hysterics throughout the night. The ensemble work, vocals and live orchestra were some of the best I’ve seen in pro-am theatre this year.

Individually the performers were fantastic but the magic of this musical is the ensemble aspect and BMT really nailed this element. The interactions between the spellers were perfectly directed as were the moments between the ‘adults’. I applaud Jesse Bradford for his careful direction and the cast’s faultless synergy with one and other.

The effervescent Logan Schwartzy was played by Kirsten Gleeson. It’s safe to say that this role was made for her! Her comedic timing, unique take on certain elements of the character and overall ‘zing’ she added to the stage was phenomenal. Vocally she was great and her song ‘Woe Is Me’ was a sure stand out.

Jordan Gleeson who played Leaf Coneybear was equally made for his role and played the loveable character extremely well. He was a crowd favourite and was spot on with his youthful physicality. Jordan knocked ‘I’m Not That Smart’ out of the park, it was a very fun performance with a heap of personality!

William Chen as Chip Tolentino and Jada Parsons as Marcy Park were both in tune with their characters and had the audience in stitches with their larger than life characterisation. Parson’s routine ‘I Speak Six Languages’ was the perfect balance of busy and poised, quite like her character. Chen’s vocals were highlighted in ‘My Unfortunate Erection’ and his routine was directed with a hilarious mix of awkwardness and sixth-grader attitude.

The two Spelling Bee finalists played by Ashlee Herman and Conner Bingham were cast perfectly and had fantastic chemistry throughout the show.

Herman’s characterisation of Olive Ostrovsky was quirky and played up on her bookworm/nerdiness more than other versions I’m familiar with. I thought it was a great directional choice which brought a greater depth to her character. ‘The I Love You Song’ was incredibly moving with great harmonies by Herman, Aylish Tann and Dom Mitchell. This is widely known as a very difficult song and these performers did a great job with the tough libretto.

Bingham shone as William Barfee. He conveyed the nerdiness, socially ineptitude and vulnerability of Barfee very well. Bingham was one of the strongest actors of the night and was always doing something amusing when in the background of scenes

The ‘adults’ were fantastically cast and had phenomenal vocals. Niamh Cadoo-Dagley was breathtaking as Rona Peretti. Her vocals were on point and her crips mix-belt was perfect for the character. Niamh also choreographed the show and let simple, intentional movements shine through.

Jose De Andrade played his character Doug Panch very well; his matter of fact/dry humour was a nice contrast to the other characters exaggerated personalities.

Angus Hughes as the comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney was one of the strongest male vocalists of the night. His character is mostly disinterested in the Bee but Hughes was ‘working’ the whole time with some fantastic background acting. ‘Prayer of the Comfort Counselor’ was a strong ensemble number and the soulful tone of Hughes’ voice lent itself very well to the gospel style.

The whole cast did a great job with managing the audience participation and bouncing off the additional ‘spellers’ involvement, oftentimes improvising without missing a beat.

The five-piece orchestra, led by Mark Beilby, was one of the best I’ve seen play this show. They did a great job keeping up with the performers and adapting when scenes ran longer due to improvisation/audience participation.


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