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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Oct 8, 2010 - Oct 24, 2010

25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee

Music and lyrics by William Finn
Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Sponsored by West Bancorporation Foundation

DATES Oct. 8-24, 2010
TIMES Wed-Sat at 7:30 p.m., Sun at 3 p.m.

“Winner of two Tony Awards including Best Book of a Musical”

Acclaimed by critics and audiences from coast-to-coast during its national tour, Spelling Bee is a hilarious musical tale of overachievers’ angst chronicling the experience of six adolescent outsiders vying for the spelling championship of a lifetime. It’s the unlikeliest of hit musicals about the unlikeliest of heroes: a quirky yet charming cast of outsiders for whom a spelling bee is the one place where they can stand out and fit in at the same time.


Rona: Kellie Kramer
Panch: Micheal Davenport
Mitch: Lars Skaar
Coneybear: Ben Millar
Barfee: Charlie Reese
Chip: Colin Morgan
Marcy: Jocelyn Ascherl
Schwarzy: Rachael Hagen
Olive: Danika Portz


Director: Deena Conley
Music Director: Andrew Ryker
Choreographer: David Decker
Scenic Designer: Michael Powers
Costume Designer: Mel Ziegenfus
Lighting Designer: Jim Trenberth
Properties Designer: Joy Kripal
Hair/Wig Designer: Heidie Swihart
Sound Designer: Josh Jepson
Stage Manager: Becky Scholtec
Asst Stage Manager: Nathan Ohrt
Accompanist/Orchestra Conductor: Ben Hagen




The second-best part about “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which StageWest presents through Oct. 24 at the Civic Center’s Stoner Theater, might be a little thing called s-c-h-a-d-e-n-f-r-e-u-d-e. Language of origin: German. Definition: Pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune.
The musical is about early adolescence, after all, so anyone who has survived his or her fair share of self-doubt, shyness and hormonal catastrophes – that is, anyone older than 13 – will enjoy watching the characters undergo the same peculiar agony.
But the best part is watching them ultimately succeed, as only a pack of weirdo know-it-alls can.
For starters, there’s William Barfee (Charlie Reese) who squints out of thick Harry Caray glasses, puffs on an inhaler and spells out words on the floor with his “magic foot.” There’s returning-champ Chip (Colin Morgan) and free spirit Leaf (Ben Millar) and karate-chopping, ballet-dancing, six-language speaking Marcy (Jocelyn Ascherl). And don’t forget shy Olive (Danika Portz), whose parents are too busy to attend the bee, and little, lisping Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere (Rachel Hagen), whose competitive gay dads are all too present.
The local production, directed by Deena Conley, doesn’t have quite the same polish that a professional touring version brought two years ago to the Civic Center’s main stage, but the Stoner’s smaller venue makes it easier for the audience to get swept up in the moments of giddy excitement and terror. (This is competitive spelling, remember; it’s not for the faint of heart.)
The young cast, which includes four students from Drake and Iowa State, may have never known the days before computerized spell checks, but they sure know how to work a crowd. They hit the stage running (often literally, thanks to flashy, up-tempo choreography by David Decker) and sing their hearts out (with music direction by Andrew Ryker and a five-piece backstage band led by pianist Ben Hagen).
And this show, like the touring version, benefits from a flexible script (Rachel Sheinkin) and songs (William Finn) that build in room for local touches. The bee’s cheery director (Kellie Kramer), for example, encourages one hesitant contestant to stand like a champion, “like Shawn Johnson,” and calls on audience members to spell everything from “cow” to “xerophthalmiology.” They get little help from the condescending judge (Micheal Davenport), whose word definitions and example sentences include some of the funniest jokes in the 2-hour show.
When the contestants inevitably stumble over their letters, an official “comfort counselor” (Lars Skaar) escorts them off stage with a hug and a consolation juice box.
It’s a fitting gesture for the big-hearted show, which leaves the rest of the audience with a lot more.


Theatrical review by John Busbee

StageWest brings the Central Iowa premiere of this delightful musical to its stage, and the pretentious pack of pubescent participants has never been more vibrant. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is an often irreverent musical peek into the world of competitive spelling, thanks to the creative team of William Finn (music and lyrics) and Rachel Sheinkin (book). This show was originally conceived by Rebecca Feldman (with additional material by Jay Reiss), who is the Artistic Director of The Farm, whose mission is to create new theatre works through improvisation. The results, in this case, are uproarious, thought-provoking and irrepressibly memorable.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (or, for the sake of brevity, Spelling Bee), follows the stressful world of competitive spelling with a group of six high-powered, often pretentious group of young ideators (as one of the players explains for the near-to-idiot term, “to idiate: to form an idea; to think”). Add four more spellers pulled randomly from the audience, and the stage is set for the competition as each strives to be the top speller, thereby advancing to the National Spelling Bee.
Director Deena Conley fills the stage with an inviting ebb and flow of action, capturing the youthful aura of the core characters. Conley lends here experienced hand to this production, giving it a nice pacing. David Decker’s choreography is energized and great to watch, as he often uses all levels provided. Under the skilled guidance of Music Director, Andrew Ryker, the cast delivers the pop and punch one expects from this score.
Spelling Bee is filled with memorable songs, and this ensemble knows how to deliver them. The opening title song quickly sets the tone, establishing the personalities of the players while defining the driving obsession each has in achieving spelling success. Part of Spelling Bee’s appeal lies in its peeling back the layers covering each speller’s insecurities and challenges, providing iceberg-analogy insights into each character.
When drawn forth as skillfully as Conley’s cast and direction do, the reward is great.The bond with the audience is forged through the participation of four audience members as spellers. These four adventurous souls join the six spellers onstage in the bleachers, becoming part of the spelling action and even some of the choreography.
On this night, these four joined the action with good-natured enthusiasm, despite the humorous background snippets introducing each as he or she came forward to spell their word.Each character has moments to shine, and shine they do. Kellie Kramer brings a poised flair and exceptional pipes to her Rona Lisa Peretti, belting her songs beautifully. Her contest-managing cohort, Michael Davenport, captures all the nuances as Vice Principal Panch, and is especially adept and smooth with his improvisation work.The core to this show is the other seven performers: six competitors and their
Comfort Counselor, Mitch Mahoney (played with brilliant empathy by Lars Skaar – more on him later). Colin Morgan plays his Chip Tolentino to the hormonally distracted hilt, as more than just his interest is aroused by a girl in the audience.
As Logainne Schwarzandgrubenniere, Rachael Hagen brings a heart-tugging believability to the constant pressure of trying to please her two fathers. In a memorable performance, Ben Millar shines as the quirky Leaf Coneybear. Millar brings a warm appeal, with a great singing voice, to his “I’m Not That Smart.” As the outlandishly defensive/offensive William Barfée (not bar-fee, but “Bar-fay, with an accent ague!”), Charlie Reese brings his brilliant comic physicality to the front, highlighted in “Magic Foot,” which describes his unique method for spelling. Jocelyn Ascherl captures the pretentious brilliance of child prodigy, Marcy Park, delightfully. As Olive Ostrovsky, the child yearning for the presence of her in absentia parents, Danika Portz brings a stand-out performance to her role.
One of the most stunningly memorable scenes in this show was delivered by Portz, with Skaar as her father and Kramer as her mother, in the powerfully delivered, emotionally charged, “The I Love You Song.” This moment will stick with you long past final curtain.
Anchored by a movable set of bleachers, Michael Powers’ simple set allows focus on the action of this show. Jim Trenberth’s lighting design provides nice focus throughout the show, and the costumes created by Mell Ziegenfus reflect each character’s personality. One of the most impressive aspects of this production is the orchestra, under the ever-superb guidance of Ben Hagen. This six-piece ensemble brings a rich underscoring to the music of Spelling Bee, with consistently spot-on performing.
All in all, this is a wonderful romp, a quick-paced musical delight that will leave more than just a smile on your face. Spelling Bee offers more than one-dimensional song-and-dance, revealing recognizable foibles in each of its characters as the story line unfolds. This show should be on your to-do list, so make your reservation n-o-w!




Oct 8, 2010
Oct 24, 2010
Event Category:


StageWest Theatre
900 Mulberry St., Suite 205
Des Moines, IA 50309 United States
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