The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee performed at Independence

The cast belting a tune led by Isabela Villanueva as Rona Lisa Peretti. (Ed Berti)
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At Independence High School recently a performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was presented by the Performing Arts Department.  This show is a musical comedy with music lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachael Sheinkin and conceived by Rebecca Feldman centered on a fictional spelling bee set in Putnam Valley Middle School.  To the writer the geographical location is ambiguous, however, I quickly thought of Putnam County, New York.  There are six quirky students who compete in the contest and it is run by three equally bizarre adults.

The cast ending a tune. (Judy Berti)

What differentiates this show from others, four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee along side the six students.  Another amusing aspect of the show is the character of Vice Principal Douglas Patch, played very well by Jared Wilson, after five years of absence from the contest, he returns as the judge.  He appears to be in a better place, however, one does become skeptical as the show moves on through Act One and into Act Two.  He also seems to have affection for Rona Lisa Perretti who is the number one realtor in Putnam County, a former Putnam County Spelling Bee Champion herself, and returning moderator.  This leading character role is performed by Isabela Villanueva who showed her flexibilty by coming across as a sweet woman, but she can be very stern when it comes to dealing with Douglas Patch who obviously has some feelings for her that she mostly likely does not return.  It is implied that she sees herself much like the character Olive Ostrovsky a young newcomer to competitive spelling played by Grace McKinney.

Leaf Coneybear as Max Becker singing a song.

The other adult in the room is Marge Mahoney, played by Ashlyn Clark the official comfort counselor who is an ex-convict performing community service with the Bee, and hands out juice boxes to losing students as they are sent packing off the stage.  The other key characters include William Barfee, performed by Tijhan N’gum, a finalist from last year who was eliminated due to an allergic reaction to peanuts.  He has a famous “Magic Foot” method of spelling which has propelled him into spelling glory.  His name is often mispronounced as Bar-FAY, not BARF-ee.  He develops a crush on Olive, at the end of the play wins the spelling bee.  He certainly has an amazing magical foot!

Barfee doing his signature Spelling Bee dance. (Judy Berti)

The key roles performed by Jack Vernocy, Jada Eve, Max Becker, Emma Joles, Nick Zuluaga and Connor Fohr, all did an outstanding job in portraying their characters.  William Parson-Carper portrayed two minor characters, however, as Jesus he appears to Marcy Park played by Emma Joles in a moment of crisis that stands out as memorable.  He also played Olive’s Dad with Emily Kohn as Olive’s Mom.

The six Spelling Bee student contenders.

The ensemble was excellent throughout the performance, the crew was on cue all night and did an great job in the background, the production staff Director Paula Baldwin, Music Director/Accompanist Kristine Neal, Choreographer Emily Witte and Technical Director Rick Dills should all be commended on an entertaining and enjoyable evening.  Bravo!

William Parsons-Carper as Jesus.
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Ed Berti
Ed is retired and remains active as a freelance writer, local journalist and independent contractor. He is engaged in print and electronic media writing stories covering business, sports, hometown news and veteran's affairs including articles of interest to various media outlets. Ed is a graduate of Wagner College where he earned an MBA and holds a BBA from Pace University.
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