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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Loudoun Valley High School, Purcellville, Virginia, February 18, 2018

Matthew Wisdom

Riverside High School


Spelling is truly a sport. With the slip of a vowel, a season is over. At the misplacement of a consonant, there is always a heart break that follows. In Loudoun Valley High School's, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, astute champions were not only tested through the vocabularic fires of the dictionary, but energy, endearment, and outstanding characters took the stage, enticing the audience from letters A to Z.


Making its Broadway debut in 2005, this one of a kind musical comedy garnered rave reviews in front of audiences of all ages. Picking up six Tony Award nominations and two wins, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee showcases an electric group of six students, competing for the coveted title of spelling champion. Parallel to the sharp-witted decision making of its competitors, Loudoun Valley's choice of staging produced a warm and inviting environment to its audience, where laughter was in no short supply. With the audience members seated onstage alongside the actors, interaction and inclusiveness blossomed, adding to all storytelling aspects. Other notable elements that were used to its advantage were Loudoun's valley's use of lighting, sound design, and set. With the usage of a simplistic backdrop and light and sound design, Loudoun Valley High School achieved a recognizable school atmosphere while creating an immersive experience with ease.


Aiding in its inclusiveness, Loudoun Valley High School's production showcased a talented company with an eccentric ensemble of competitors. Intriguing characters were created by all, with each actor and actress showing dedication to character through vocal decisions and overall demeanor. Two standout performances included those of Sophie Stapleton in the role of the shy Olive Ostrovsky, and Blake Carlson in the role of the eccentric William Barfee. These two performers were not only completely immersed in their characters, but left the audience in stitches while handling their arcs professionally. With their separate and joint dynamics, the audience cheered the actors on after each pronunciation, definition, and spelling, hoping to see them each advance to the next round of the competition. Complementing its dedicated actors perfectly, Loudoun Valley's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee truly triumphed in its cast's laugh out loud improvisational skills. Using its source material's intentional space for improv to its advantage, Viking Theatre did not disappoint. Taking this opportunity to heart, the cast's delivery and grip on this challenging skill was on full display throughout the entire musical.


Energy bounced off every wall at Loudoun Valley High School's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. With a cast in complete command of its comedic capabilities, a sense of endearment was created towards a story that stayed true to its original source material, but was molded by the hands of a company that wasn't afraid to bring about new ideas to this beloved American musical.

Amanda Hampton

Riverside High School


Fill a gymnasium with angst-ridden adolescents, quirky teachers, and overbearing parents, and pandemonium is sure to ensue: a notion that was confirmed with raucous flair by Loudoun Valley High School's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.


The musical, which saw its Broadway debut in 2005, brings together six tween oddballs (and four audience participants) to compete in the high-stakes spelling bee at Putnam Valley Middle School.  Whether they are trying to appease their single-minded dads, garner the attention of absent parents, or maintain their winning streak, the event is all-important and all-consuming in the minds of the students.  Inevitably, in the heat of competition, tensions run high, relationships are formed, and dreams are crushed with the ding of a bell as the day wears on.


The cast's dedication to their larger-than-life characters was commendable, as was their clear aptitude for comedy.  In particular, Zach Goolsby as Leaf Coneybear and Blake Carlson as William Barfee displayed remarkable commitment to their outlandish personas.  Goolsby's portrayal of the vacuous but gentle-natured Leaf made him an endearing favorite the audience was loathe to see eliminated; by contrast, Carlson's affected voice and waspish mannerisms kept the audience in stitches.  His blossoming relationship with Sophie Stapleton as Olive Ostrovsky allowed for some genuinely sweet moments to shine through, furthered by Stapleton's crystal-clear vocals and mild temperament.


Claire Poirier was an immediate standout as Rona Lisa Peretti, the empathetic spelling bee moderator reliving her former glory as a previous Putnam County Spelling Bee champion.  She carried the role with sophistication and poise, and her vocal aptitude was perfectly suited for the more mature sound demanded by the character, shining through in the nostalgic "Rona's Moment" and serving as the anchor for many group numbers.  Another evident vocal talent was seen in Onna Thomas, who gave the role of Michelle Mahoney a fresh, effortlessly gritty update that made her a joy to watch.


The technical elements of the show served to bring a sense of zany realism to the production.  The incorporation of an improvised thrust stage allowed the audience to truly feel a part of the onstage action, and the set and prop teams did an outstanding job of painting an incredibly vivid picture of a high school gymnasium, complete with white-washed cinder blocks, painted murals of school mascots, and posters proclaiming the advent of such activities as online bowling.  The stage managers, in a stroke of innovation, took on the roles of Putnam PTA moms, giving bubbly introductions at the beginning and at intermission that added yet another element of unorthodox hilarity to the performance.


With integrity and talent rampant among both cast and crew, Loudoun Valley High School's charming production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was absolutely S-E-N-S-A-T-I-O-N-A-L.


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