I was treated to the opening night of Showstoppers’ The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Garden Court. In a change from the usual venue of The Annex after some devastating roof leakage, Showstoppers were able to effectively use the space and bring the audience into their school hall. Just as a forewarning, this musical was not what I was expecting in the slightest.
We are introduced to our cast of six child spellers, two judges, and a comforter. For a very small cast, there was never a feeling that the stage or performance was empty, with the cast able to switch roles to smaller figures in different backstories. Though the beginning of the performance had some initial blips with microphone volume, this was soon ironed out and the rest continued with fault.
Chloe Taylor exceeded as the spelling-enthused Rona Lisa Perretti, where her vocals and characterisations brought the character to life and set the audience off with an excitable tone. She was well-matched by Joshua Newby’s Vice Principal Douglas Patch, who, for those who want an indication as to where that character goes, isn’t allowed to be Principal anymore. They work expertly together to guide the audience through the trials and tribulations of the spelling bee and give interesting snippets into the other characters’ lives, as well as increasing one’s vocabulary along the way.
The cast of children made both a fabulous cast of stars and as an ensemble. It was made up of Ally Scanlon (Marcy Park), Beth Mitchell (Olive Ostrovsky), Bitsy Pout (Logainne Schwartabdgrubenierre), John Galbraith (William Barfeé), Joseph Inglis (Leaf Coneybear), and Patrick Riley (Chip Tolentino). Each of these children had demons that haunted their spelling careers, some more in a more obvious package than others. I visited with my friend who did not know much about musicals but noted that Scanlon was “bloody good”, Mitchell looked “really pretty”, Pout was “dead funny”, Galbraith had a “wonderful voice”, Inglis was “hilarious”, and Riley sang “proper high”. Each of these were dressed superbly and were always switched on.
Another draw to Showstoppers’ productions is the use of the live band, who did not falter for a single note. Led by Katie Hallam and Juliette Taylor, the band superbly played with the whimsical soundtrack, and their enjoyment of the music and the story was infectious. It is so nice for them to be as present on stage as the rest of the cast rather than tucked away. Special congratulations to the cellist and clarinettist who mesmerised my friend; she thought you were “sick”.
This musical is not just for the visual and audial enjoyment of the audience but on another much deeper layer. Audience members will get extra bang for their buck, though its surprise appearance is what makes it taste much sweeter. There is also the excellent use of audience participation. VP Activities Ella Foxhall got conscripted to help with the proceedings of the show, as well as another gentleman who got to sit in full view of the hall downing his pint. Cydney Waite Brown’s Mitch Mahoney continuous method acting is nothing to be sniffed at, and I’m sure these participants were grateful for her consolidating hand. If you’re looking for a bit of something extra, it is definitely worth signing yourself up for this at check-in. I, who did not want to get too involved, got picked out by Riley’s Chip; I won’t tell you what seat to sit in but there’s a good chance you mind find yourself unwittingly in the middle of the action.
After reading that this is the last production that most of the cast and crew will be a part of, they should be very happy and proud that they have bowed out with such inviting splendour. This is such a worthwhile production for anyone, especially those who enjoy the undeniable pleasure of watching someone get sung to when they really don’t want to get sung to. I would highly recommend getting yourself to the front seats of this performance.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is showing at Garden Court.