By SAMANTHA PIDDE
Timber Lake Playhouse's “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is an uproarious musical that anyone can enjoy.
The production was conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin. The entirety of this interactive musical takes place during the titular spelling bee, highlighting, with humor, the struggles each student faces during adolescence.
As always, TLP's resident cast shines in this light-hearted, immersive comedy, featuring an ensemble of quirky characters.
Margot Frank brings Rona Peretti, the former spelling bee champ and adult moderator who adores spelling bees, to life. Savanna native Darren Mangler injects just the right amount of humor and frustration as Vice Principal Douglas Panch, as he gives each contestant their words. Eli Nash is great as Mitch Mahoney, the court-appointed Comfort Counselor who knows life is not always fair.
Jessica Altvater is unforgettable as the often-forgotten Olive Ostrovsky. Her song with her mom and dad (cast members Quinn Martin and Jack Hale) — "The I Love You Song" — is sweet and sad, bringing a tear to your eye.
Roy Brown is quirky and fun as the socially awkward William Barfée. Brown has several wonderful songs, including "Magic Foot."
With a lisp and a sweet face, Megan Graal wonderfully portrays Logainne "Schwarzy" SchwartzandGrubenierre, the pre-teen speller facing a lot of pressure from her fathers. Her song "Woe is Me" and its reprise is sweet, sad and genuine.
Katelyn Baughman is perfect, and just slightly snooty, as the perfectionist speller, Marcy Park, who is tired of living up to everyone's expectations.
Joey LaPlant exudes goofy sweetness as the simple, kind-hearted Leaf Coneybear. His song, "I'm Not that Smart," is touching and heartwarming.
Caleb Mathura is wonderful as the All-American boy, Chip Tolentino. His plight by the end of the first act is hilarious, but something many can empathize with.
TLP Artistic Director Paul Stancato makes a fun appearance as principal, drawing the audience into the show.
Besides being a wonderful, interactive story, “Spelling Bee” is a great musical. In addition to the aforementioned songs, the soundtrack includes songs ranging from silly, sweet, to angry and sad. By the end of the show, audience members will be singing along with "The Last Goodbye."
As always, this wonderful music is possible due to the orchestra, directed conducted by Michael McBride. The orchestra includes: McBride on keyboard; Ben Heppner on drums/percussion; Cathay James on Reed 1; Kelsee Vandervall on Cello; P. Blake Moran on Keyboard 2.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is quite immersive. Walking into TLP, audience members feel as if they walked into a school gymnasium for a spelling bee. Smart setting and clever props and fliers accomplish this goal.
None of this would have been possible without the talented hard work of Natalie Novacek as Director; Emma B. Resek as Choreographer; Sherri Howells as Set Designer; Tammy Long as Costume Designer; Elizabeth Cipriano as Associate Costume Designer; Corey Cochran as Hair/Makeup Designer; Rob Littlefield as Lighting/Media Designer; Addison Calvin as Technical Director; Nick Leek as Sound Designer; Callie Hester as Properties Designer; Garth Moritz as Stage Manager and crews.
TLP's second 2021 main stage musical spells an enjoyable evening.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is showing at TLP through Sunday, July 11. Tickets are available online at timberlakeplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 815-244-2035. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.