Monday, August 8, 2011

RCT's 'Spelling Bee' is H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S

Photos by Jeff  Cusano
By Cheryl Thornburg
If you're in need of a good laugh, Reading Civic Theatre is serving up lots of them in its current production, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
An outstanding ensemble cast brings this Tony Award-winning musical comedy to outrageously over-the-top life, guaranteed to make even the grumpiest person chuckle, if not guffaw.
Set in a county spelling bee at Putnam Valley Middle School, somewhere USA,  the show features six unique and awkward adolescents vying for the title and a chance to go to the national competition. The three adults in charge are just as quirky as the "youngsters."
The Spellers
Angela DeAngelo is a triple threat as Olive Ostrovsky, an insecure young girl who keeps hoping her absentee parents will turn up. DeAngelo's powerful vocals are showcased in "The I Love You Song" and "My Friend the Dictionary." Her comedic timing and acting create an extremely likable Olive that has the audience rooting for her.
One of her main competitors is William Barfee, played with flair by Jamie Richard, who delivers the know-it-all Barfee with delightful obnoxiousness.
Heidi Carletti plays a different kind of know-it-all,  the super-achieving Marcy Park, who placed 9th in the national competition the previous year. Carletti also is the whole package with a great voice and comedic acting ability. Her song "I Speak Six Languages" sums up her character pretty well.
 A lot less secure is Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, whose two dads are constantly giving her advice. Delivered with a delightful lisp, Marisa Hoover's Logaine is sweet and charming, evoking sympathy from the audience, as well as lots of laughs.
Corey Buller is over-the-top as the almost indescribable Leaf Coneybear, a youngster who makes his own clothes (including a cape) and can't seem to sit still, but super-focuses to spell the words. Buller's interpretation of Leaf will make you laugh.
Even more over-the-top is Caleb Seip as Chip Toleration, last year's county spelling bee winner. His Chip is overly confident (cocky in more than one sense of the word) and superbly funny. Always in character, expect anything from this talented comedian.
The Staff
Jason Denlenger, channeling Bret Michaels, is perfect as the bad boy Mitch Mahoney, serving as monitor for the Bee as part of his community service. Denlenger is a talented comedic actor, but also has a great voice as shown in "Prayer of The Comfort Counselor" and "The I Love You Song."
Stan Durlack creates a memorable Vice Principal Douglas Panch, whose weaknesses and idiosyncrasies surface as the Bee progresses.
Rounding out the staff  is Danelle Wagner as Rona Lisa Perth, a long-ago Bee winner, now in charge of the Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Her obsession with the Bee and her former glory is clear in the numbers "Rona's Moment (1, 2 & 3)"  and as she adds hilarious commentary on the techniques of each of the spellers.
In addition to the nine cast members (some of whom play multiple roles), four audience members are drafted to participate in the spelling bee, adding an element of improvisation for the cast as well as the draftees.
Put all of these talented actors together and you get a laugh-filled afternoon or evening. Note that this is an adult cast playing children. Some of the the humor in this show is adult fare done mostly with gestures and innuendo (Think Shakespeare's bawdier scenes), and so it may not be suitable for young children.
The show is directed by Bruce Schonour, assisted by Jeanette DeAngelo. Choreography is by Anne Burkot.
RCT's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" continues Aug. 12-13. Thanks to a partnership with Alvernia University,  performances are at the Alvernia Montessori School (St. Anthony's Auditorium), 211 Grace St., Reading.  Located off Lancaster Avenue, the auditorium is easy to find and there is ample parking.
Tickets are available by calling the ticket line 610-373-3311. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. For information call 610-375-7482 or visit


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