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Best written reviews for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” performed by Annandale High School in Annandale, Virginia. Reviewed on April 30, 2022.

Marlene Brasco

St. Paul VI Catholic High School


The word is "stupendous." Can we hear it in a sentence? Yes: "With its enthralling performance and impactful themes, Annandale High School's production of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' was stupendous."


With music and lyrics by William Finn, the partially improvised musical followed Putnam County's elementary school students vying for first place in a spelling bee. Amid the show's zaniness existed sensitive topics, such as one contestant having two dads and another suffering from the stress of perfectionism, that preached a message of self-approval and inclusivity.


Compounding the theme of inclusivity, the bee contestants earned their stripes through their interactive and thoroughly engaging performances. Addressing the audience as if its members were spelling bee spectators, the cast immediately enveloped the audience in the story. The actors' improvisational timing was natural as it lent itself to the story's progression; playing Chip Tolentino, Jessup Gravitt successfully blended playful banter among audience members with his scripted punishment of selling concessions after being eliminated first in the bee.


Individual actors and ensemble bee members alike were anything but bumbling. As the monotone, uptight perfectionist Marcy Park, Kaya Thomas seamlessly demonstrated Marcy's character development as she let go of expectations and became a joyous free spirit. Also immersed in his role, even when he was not the focus of the scene, was Timothy Hurd as the seemingly rough but surprisingly gentle parolee, Mitch Mahoney. Equally engaging were actors Jewel Coulter and Aiden Scarbrough as spelling bee hosts Rona Lisa Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch. With palpable onstage chemistry, the pair complemented each other with Scarbrough's expertly timed dead-pan comedy and Coulter's sophisticated ability to act as a foil for all of the show's antics. The main characters displayed their versatility as they were able to bounce in-and-out of musical numbers that functioned as character-revealing asides, and the ensemble members navigated through numerous roles while still maintaining a certain distinction between their many parts.


One would only need to experience the production's singing and dancing to understand what the musical's "buzz" was all about. As William Barfeé, a contestant who traced the letters of the spelling words on the floor with his feet, Jasson Rodriguez-Regalado showcased a delightfully rhythmic tap solo. The performers were able to retain their character-driven vocal tone and inflections not only throughout the dialogue but in their singing. For instance, Amanda Weaver as Olive Ostrovsky coupled her biting vocals with her tear-filled emotion to portray her frequently neglected character in the number "The I Love You Song."


Like busy worker bees, the production's tech crews worked diligently to ensure that the small details of the show were accentuated. Light designers Sandy Rocha and Mars Crowley enhanced the plot's climax through pink and blue lighting that split the final two contestants into separate camps. Kaya Thomas's ingenious hair and makeup designs ensured that characters like Leaf Coneybear, played by senior Nati Asgedom, would look younger with shimmering face sparkles and butterfly hair clips. Lastly, Atlas Martindale and Stephanie Manco's props designs, including an adorable capybara to explain one of the spelling words, added to the interactive nature of the show.


With engaging performances and immersive technical aspects, Annandale's production delivered the powerful theme of rejecting unnecessary expectations in order to promote inclusive camaraderie. Ultimately, Annandale High School's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was as sweet as honey.

Eliza LaViolette

Independence High School


Can you spell P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M?! Annandale High School took on the humorous and heartwarming show, The 25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, by Rachel Sheinkin. Six young and eccentric adolescents compete for victory and the chance at nationals. Yet they discover themselves, and new friends along the way.


From William Barfee's (Jasson Rodriguez-Regalado) tap dancing solo to Chip Tolentino's (Jessup Gravitt) humorous "distraction," this cast was jam packed with a talented cast that truly connected with their characters and proved so onstage. The female lead, Olive Ostrovsky (Amanda Weaver) started as a nervous girl determined to do well and have fun at the bee. However, Weaver managed to yank at your heartstrings as she began revealing her afflicted home life and loneliness. In her "The I Love You Song" Weaver finally broke through Olive's bubbly facade, showing her true emotion through her extraordinary facial expressions. Marcy and Schwartzy (Kaya Thomas and Casey Visscher) developed their characters' relationship in the background when they were not the pinnacle of the scene. Either poking, swatting, or merely glancing at each other in their seats, it was their dedication to those character choices that brought the childish feel to them.


The featured characters in this cast showed but a glimpse into their backstories with such a short amount of time onstage, but they made a lasting impact. One example of this was Timothy Hurd, who portrayed the out-of-place comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney. He strode onstage equipped with an apple juice tool belt, and a heart of gold. Hurd's ironically intimidating character consoled the eliminated spellers, and with each hug he gave them, the audience saw his demeanor soften and could see he cared about each kid individually, telling them that "disappointment doesn't last".


 Audience participation was a major part of the performance. The actors had to rely on pure improv skills, as the audience members were unscripted. The cast was well prepared with funny responses and clever quips to whatever the person threw at them. Even when confronted with an adult audience member as a guest speller, the host Rona Lisa, (Jewel Coulter) was quick with a joke saying, "you must've been held back a grade!"


Other than the spellers, the "walk-on" roles and ensemble also used many props as characters themselves. Leif's capybara, Barfee's blow up letters, and even a dancer dressed as a dictionary, became more than just a person holding a prop. They integrated a recognizable part for themselves into the show. The hair and makeup department had the difficult task in making these high schoolers look elementary-age the only way one can. With butterfly clips, and glitter. Lots and lots of glitter. The actors interacted incredibly fluidly with the technical aspects of this show. Each sound cue was sharp and precisely on time, even in the improvisational moments. The lighting, though complex and clear, blended into the back of the audience's mind, and simply emphasized the actors during their special moments.


This performance had the audience laughing one moment and clutching their hearts the next. Come watch the young and maladjusted characters in this excellent show have their brief time to shine onstage at Annandale High School.



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