The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Albert Einstein High School - Kensington, Maryland - November 11, 2017
Poolesville High School
Albert Einstein High School's S.T.A.G.E.'s production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was absolutely scintillating, s-c-i-n-t-i-l-l-a-t-i-n-g, scintillating (definition: brilliantly and excitingly clever or skillful). From A to Z, this show hit audiences in their hearts just as often as in their funny bones, and Einstein S.T.A.G.E.'s portrayal of the story left nothing wanting.
"Spelling Bee" tells the story of ten people competing in a spelling bee, only six of whom are actors. The other four contestants were pulled from the audience, and while this could potentially spell disaster, the student actors were able to play off these volunteers to great effect, even going so far as incorporating them into dance numbers. The show constantly taps cracks into the fourth wall, but the actors played this balance so effortlessly that it felt natural.
Stand-out performances were given by Mitch Mahoney (Steven Franco), Olive Ostrovsky (Isabella Benning), Leaf Coneybear (Allegra Levone), and Chip Tolentino (Dylan Kaufman). Franco's vocals were an astounding contrast against his tough-guy persona. Benning had great range of acting, showcased brilliantly in "I Love You Song". Levone gave a show-stealing performance with every line, and broke every heart in the audience when she had to leave. Last but certainly not least, Kaufman's re-introduction to the story with his Act II opening, "Chip's Lament", was endlessly hilarious.
This production featured a minimal set put to great use by the actors on stage. The choreography (by Aryana Briner and Grace Keller) filled the stage without ever overcrowding it, even in the chaos of the musical number "Pandemonium." The lights were impeccably timed with both the music and the dialogue and despite some mic troubles there was great use of echo reverb effects. Costumes were not overwhelming but fit seamlessly into the stage picture, and the orchestra never drowned out the actors.
Overall, "Spelling Bee" was a gut-busting production that wrought both tears of laughter and tears of sadness. Despite the satirical nature of the show each actor could find some genuine aspect of their character to show to the audience, and that is what made the entire production so touching. I hope to see more of this technical prowess and masterful character work as Albert Einstein High School continues to put on shows throughout the school year.
Poolesville High School
Eudemonic: to produce happiness. No word better fits Albert Einstein High School's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Featuring personable characters, powerful voices, and brilliant tech, it truly captured the touching story of six stressed students brought together by a spelling bee.
The production was equally hilarious and heartbreaking. Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Joey Lambert) deadpanned ludicrous definitions and sentences for equally farcical words while Rona Lisa Peretti (Elizabeth Henley) encouraged the spellers with her light, airy voice. However, the audience would often be given glances into the tragic lives of the six spellers. As characters were eliminated, the audience audibly reacted, sad that their favorite speller had lost.
The set, lights, and orchestra coexisted in the same space, and no one element stood out too much or took up too much space. The onstage orchestra did not overpower the actors, but still filled the auditorium with bright sound. The main set piece was a back piece with moveable doors, which would open and close as spellers were eliminated. This movement was both smooth and speedy, allowing the exits to be dramatic but not sluggish. Finally, the lights were crisp and natural.
An impressive aspect of this show was the ability of the actors to both synchronize group numbers and allow their characters to vividly shine. Every actor was perfectly in tune with their character, and it was evident in their mannerisms, expressions, and tone. The choreography also aided in this, as seen in "Magic Foot," where almost all the movements were below the waist, or in "Pandemonium," where the actors frantically ran around the stage. Leaf Coneybear (Allegra Levone) was particularly dedicated, easily floating around the stage when she was standing and fidgeting while she was sitting to exhibit her character's easily distracted nature.
Einstein's 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was clean and professional. It doesn't need to be spelled out that this was a fantastic show!