This weekend, VegSOUP presents "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a thoroughly entertaining romp that will keep you laughing long after you've left the theater.
"Spelling Bee" follows six overachieving adolescent spellers and their loopy chaperones through a day of angst, questionable adult supervision, juice boxes, peanut allergies and untimely erections - not to mention a cameo appearance by the Son of God Himself - as they learn that losing isn't the end of the world.
If that doesn't hook you, nothing will. The show is irresistibly playful and endlessly hilarious, filled with humor both snarky and slapstick. If spelling were this funny in real life, we might finally have an alternative to "Jersey Shore."
One of the best aspects of "Spelling Bee" is the level of audience interaction. Before the show, four audience members are chosen to participate as guest spellers alongside the quirky cast members.
The show is formatted to make the audience feel like they're watching a real spelling bee. The characters start in the audience before they're called to the stage, which is painted like the floor of a gym, and during intermission they wander around completely in character, interacting with the audience with hilarious results.
The musical numbers are playful and chaotic, mixing fun choreography with stunning vocals. "Life is Pandemonium" is as marvelously spastic as the title suggests, while the "I Love You Song," one speller's ballad with her absentee parents, rings with intense dissonant harmonies performed beautifully by senior Shannon McDermott, junior Nicholas Cotrupi and sophomore Amelia Millar.
The small pit orchestra puts out music at a delightful volume and even interacts with the actors in some of the improvised bits.
The two supervisors of the spelling bee have some of the funniest moments of the play, improvising many of their lines - most notably the facts about the contestants ("Mr. Barfee has a sea anemone circus in his basement.") and the almost completely ad-libbed example sentences.
Sophomore Brandon DeFilippis plays Douglas Panch, a sketchy vice principal, and Millar plays his starry-eyed counterpart Rona Lisa Peretti, a former spelling bee champ. The two play off each other fabulously, eliciting constant laughs with their improvised banter as they narrate the bee like enthusiastic sports commentators.
Junior Allison McArdle brings her ultra-political character, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, to vibrant life, speaking with a convincing lisp and staring down at the audience with crazy bug-eyes during her more frantic speeches.
Sophomore Gregory Maddock is adorable as the "not-that-smart" Leaf Coneybear, a bubbly, cape-wearing kid who goes into a spastic trance when he spells. McDermott is equally cute as Olive Ostrovsky, and freshman Jonathan Mushock's unfortunately pubescent Chip Tolentino has one of the funniest numbers in the show, entitled "My Unfortunate Erection." Need I say more?
Freshman Katelyn Hearfield's manic, perfectionist energy as straight-laced overachiever Marcy Park is a source of constant hilarity. The wonderfully nerdy William Barfee is played by an uproarious freshman Joshua Horowitz.
Cotrupi is fantastic as Official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney and two different fathers. His transitions are subtle but effective, using changes in mannerisms rather than dramatic costume swaps to signal a switch.
Sophomore Nicholas Becht, the costume designer, does an excellent job characterizing each cast member through his or her clothes. Politically-minded Schwartzandgrubenierre wears a Hillary Clinton-esque pantsuit while the sweet and bubbly Ostrovsky wears a little pink dress and a princess backpack. Coneybear's costume is especially delightful, featuring a helmet, a red cape and various colored patches to bring out his playful nature.
"Spelling Bee" will play in the Brodie Black Box from Thursday, Feb. 11 to Saturday, Feb 13. Tickets are available for $6 in the Brodie Box Office.