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Play Review: Putnam County Spelling Bee a hilarious romp

ESCANABA — The COVID 19 pandemic forced a pause to many beloved traditions, so it really feels like home to be attending “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” with Players de Noc. For those of you whose spelling has drifted since your school days, fear not — this play by William Finn and Rebecca Feldman is a hilarious romp that will disarm and delight you.

Our cast includes six champions competing for the illustrious title of #1, among them last year’s winner Chip Tolentino (played with great precision and embarrassment by Tim Haagensen), the irresistibly eager Logainne Schwarzandgrubennier (Mariah Lee), the wacky enthusiast Leaf Coneybear (Brian Tourangeau), the painfully weird William Barfee (Evan Schoff), an inspirational ice-queen Macy Park (Autumn Fournier) and the heartfelt Olive Ostrovsky (Robin Gavriloff). They are shepherded by a regal spelling bee alumnae Rona Lisa Perretti (Cathy Wilson), a high-strung vice principal Dana Panch (Christine Madalinski), and a bit of mean muscle from Mitch Mahoney (Travis Dubord).

The Spelling Bee form is one you will recognize, and the music is unforgettable. This year’s pit orchestra propels singing, dancing, and … well, spelling, with great pizazz (i.e. the quality of being exciting or attractive): Sydney Ogren, Ariella Murray, Trisha LeMire, Trevor Sebeck, Whitney Massie, Rachel Capon, and Dave Potvin. The hushed suspense and utter pandemonium of adolescent competition require the experienced balance of sound designers Pat Feldhusen and Kerry Madalinski.

On stage, each character shines with signature costumes (Beth Peterson), props (Jenny Heller), make-up and lighting (Lauren Hovland). The entire play takes place in a gymnasium so authentic that you will be sweating like a middle schooler with an er… erroneous spelling. Set design and construction was done by Jamie Peterson, Allen Palmgren, Pete Ammel, Pete Dzanbozoff, and Jim Soderberg, with painting by Jolie (and Pete) Dzanbozoff, Jenny Heller, and Kris Hovland. Stage managers Kris Hovland and (backstage) Jenny Heller made this production possible, as well as marketing by Sam Komay, graphic design by Laura Haagensen, and house manager Jesse Traub.

Although you will not see them directly competing this year, two champions of the arts deserve special recognition: stage director Jeff Woerpel and musical director Tom Knoll. These experienced leaders know how to rally a troupe of amateurs into a production of S-T-A-R-S. They may literally drag volunteers from the audience if they need to.

Whether you are gregarious grammarian or a lazy lexiconologist, this play will remind you of the diversity of experiences all around us. Maybe it will inspire something in you too, to be brave, to have fun, to make friends, maybe even – to audition…

Performances will take place at the Bonifas Fine Arts Theater in Escanaba on September 23, 24, 28, 29, 30 and October 1 at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a matinee September 25 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door, at playersdenoc.org, or at the front desk of the Bonifas during normal operating hours.

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