Wanting to mark Grammar’s return to the stage with a show that might prove celebratory and uplifting, the choice of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee took us further than we could have hoped, ultimately delivering performances that combined humour and empathy in a manner that was nothing less than joyous.
Faced with the difficult task of creating a group of very quirky young teenagers competing in a rather intense competition, our cast members worked patiently and with remarkable attention to detail, creating characters that were both vivid and memorable. Defending champion Chip Tolentino was made nicely smug by sweet-throwing Felix Power (V), while Charlie Carroll (IV) played the dreamy Leaf Coneybear with a wonderfully unselfconscious childishness. Keeping up the pattern of striking contrasts, an exuberant Payton Green gave us a palpably intense and anxious Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, while Lauren Young made perfectionist Marcy Park totally credible as she gradually shifted all the way from moodily defensive to ecstatically self-liberated. Prickly nerd William Barfee was brought to life with brilliant comic absurdity by Harvey Abrahams (V), and Samantha Millin created a vulnerable but hopeful Olive Ostrovsky with affecting grace and sensitivity. Holding this odd collection of youngsters together was the show’s slightly manic host, Ms Peretti, performed with warmth and vivacity by Lulu Joye, supported by her rather uptight assistant, Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played with amusing awkwardness by Ethan Lowinger (V). Finally, James Brew (IV) somehow managed to stretch himself between the roles of grumpy (and vocally soulful) comfort counsellor Mitch Mahoney and two of the girls’ fathers.