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‘Spelling Bee’ gets audience involved

The best ticket in town was bought at the Howard Brubeck Theatre to see the Palomar Performing Arts’ stupendous rendition of this one-act, musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

The cast of characters included seven actors playing a total of 14 roles, six spellers and eight adults. Having actors playing double roles is an optional feature in the original play. It proved to be pandemonium at it’s best, which was obvious in the musical number entitled “Pandemonium.”

The cast members were so enthusiastic in telling the story of this fictional spelling bee that you wanted to jump on stage and be a participant. This is exactly what happened when four members of the audience were spontaneously selected to become a part of the spelling bee.

The actors were each cast into their perfect role that pulled the audience into a spelling bee for at least 90 minutes. Each and every actor was the star of the show.

Backgrounds of the actors varied from first musical to several years of acting. Yet during the play, one got a sense of a more experienced acting group as their individual roles evolved.

From a stage successfully made to look like a typical spelling bee at a typical school was lively and exuded an atmosphere of comedy and playfulness. As a one-act play it flowed from one speller to another without letting one unused minute escape.

The spelling bee is called to order by Rona Lisa Perretti, a previous winner who thinks the bee is all about her. She summons the participants including the four new members from the audience. Background information, even for the new members, was revealed during the introduction of all the characters to the audience. A unity was then formed between the temporary members and the existing cast.

The moderator, Douglas Panch, will call a speller up to the podium and give them a word to spell. Each time the speller will break out in song to reveal their struggle in life. Actors playing dual roles were seen as a supportive parent during the speller’s revelation through music.

With characters meant to be shy and awkward, those traits were not visible when they sang. There were lots of songs, even one that was energetically performed by speller Chip Tolentino while moving through the audience and tossing candy about

If a word was not spelled correctly the contestant was ushered off the stage, given a juice box and comforted by Mitch Maloney, an obvious delinquent carrying out a court ordered community service.

As the play concluded the bee’s last two remaining spellers are wrestling with the ensuing outcome. The adult characters also realize their own faults that have hindered their lives and attempt to make adjustments. A verbal synopsis of what happens to the adults after the spelling bee adds yet another realistic and comical view of life.

“It’s a fun, whimsical play. Each of the characters is dealing with personal problems – each is growing up with something that is difficult for them,” Dana Case, the director, said as she aptly described the essence of the play.

Case has been directing and acting for over 20 years and likes to allow the actors to try things on their own before guiding them or telling them what to do.

“The director is much more a guide than a dictator,” Case said. Her unique style revealed itself during the play as you heard the cast’s impromptu responses to the various situations.

The music, led by the musical director Morgan Carberry, successfully guided the characters through the spelling bee with a lively tempo, perfectly timed cues and a cast that sang together as one voice.

The role of an actor is to transport the audience into their make-believe world. This is exactly what happened at the Howard Brubeck Theatre, you bought a ticket for a play and got transported into Putnam County Middle School for their 25th Annual Spelling Bee.

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