left, front row first, Logainne
Schwartzandgrubenierre (Stephanie Staszak), Leaf
Coneybear (Adam Qutaishat), Olive Ostrovsky (Ava
Bush), and back row, William Barfˇe (Gage
Patterson), Marcy Park (Ashley Oviedo) and Chip
Tolentino (Romesh Alex Jaya) listen intently to
the rules of the bee in All In Productions’
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
- A relatively recent musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam
County Spelling Bee” is not exactly what you would
expect from the title.
main contestants plus four nameless participants drawn
from the audience comprise the competitors. Three other
characters - the organizer, the official word reader,
and the comfort counselor - fill out the cast. Each
character is quite well-developed, which makes us care
about what happens to each of them.
Several recent movies have dealt with the subject of
spelling bees, but this is the first stage presentation
of this particular form of competition, geared more for
an adult than a children’s audience. When it hit
Broadway in 2005, it won two Tony awards and ran for
the enthusiastic introduction to the proceedings by the
organizer and former spelling champ Rona Lisa Perretti,
played with punch by Samantha Sostarich, the bee begins
with its choice of ridiculously obscure words in most
cases. The definitions and sentences given for each word
provide some of the humor, nicely delivered by the word
reader Robby McGhee. A very clever script plus some
delightful music provided by talented vocalists
well-accompanied by a group of five instrumentalists,
led by Paula Tillen Foley, combine to provide our
Schwartzandgrubenierre (Stephanie Staszak) spells
while Vice Principal Panch (Robby McGhee) and Rona
Lisa Peretti (Samantha Ostrich) listen on in All
In Productions’ “The 25th Annual Putnam County
motivates a person to want to participate in a spelling
bee anyway? Is it a love of or facility with words?
A demonstration of parental pressure? An
opportunity to prove one’s intelligence? To give one
the pleasure of beating someone else or to provide a
forum for an over-achiever?
Oviedo as the spunky Marcy Park demonstrated her
no-nonsense approach to the event and she certainly
shone in her solo number.
Her lithe body and astute mind combined in her
breathless number where she broke the chains of
perfection. Being a perfect over-achiever is a role
that’s hard to sustain.
story is punctuated along the way with various solo or
ensemble numbers, together with some well-executed
choreography directed by Alicia Rice. Probably the
crowning number is the duet by Olive’s parents, the
“I Love You” song, strongly delivered by Ernest Bell
and Samantha Sostarich, who temporarily stepped into
alternate roles, though the words of their ardent song
only underlined the loneliness of their child, Olive,
poignantly played by Ava Bush.
Patterson as William Barfee, the boy with the magic foot
and the grumpy disposition, was memorable as was the
contestant with “a problem,” Chip Tolentino, well
played by Romesh Alex Jaya.
little lisper with the liberal views, Logaine
Schwartzandgrubenniere, stood up to the world, as she
defended her gay fathers and all others who suffer the
stigma of being different.
Nicely done, Stephanie Staszak.
combination of kindness and bravado was well-portrayed
by the comfort counselor who offered hugs and a box of
apple juice to the losers. Ernest Bell had a voice to
match his cocky attitude. Lastly, the lad with the
superman cape and strong desire to prove he was smart,
Leaf Coneybear, was nicely rendered by Adam Qutaishat.
by Mitch Weindorf, this comic musical with meat, was a
delight. All In Productions once again proved its worth
in this well-honed offering. The audience, including its
four well-chosen participants, had a good time with many
laughs as well as some issues to think about.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
The musical runs through Saturday at the Next Act
Theatre at 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee.