072017 Theater: Musical comedy spells its cast
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"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" opens at the Strand Theater.
Theater: Musical comedy spells its cast

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

No spell check? Egads.

Spelling is the challenge for the Swamp Fox Players appearing in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical comedy featuring six competing teens at a fictional spelling bee set in the gymnasium of Putnam Valley Middle School. An unusual aspect of the show is that four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the young participants and the three “quirky” grownups running the event.

“The play is hilarious,” said Josie Thames. “ I knew this was a show that I had to direct. Songs like ‘My Friend the Dictionary’ and ‘I Speak Six Languages’ hit me right in the childhood, while others like ‘Magic Foot’ and ‘The Goodbye Song’ filled me with an infectious glee. This show is right up my alley. It’s heartwarming and biting at the same time.”

And who among the spellers will take home the winning trophy?

Shy Olive Ostrovsky made friends with the dictionary as a small child. Cathryn Thames, 16, the aspiring-actress daughter of Josie, is enjoying her role. “Cathryn is normally drawn to sad characters,” said Josie.

William Morris Barfee, played by Stephen Stewart, has a particularly unique approach to spelling.

Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, played by Julia Hooks, is the youngest speller at the bee. Hooks, 22, is challenged playing the 7-year-old. “But she’s a pretty mature 7-year-old,” Hooks said.

Marcy Park, played by Mary Hannah Newton, speaks six languages. Call her an overachiever.

Leaf Coneybear is played by Joe Nooft. In the song “I’m Not That Smart” he sings about what his family thinks of him. Nooft, 35, was once a runner-up in a fifth grade spelling contest. “I choked on the word buffalo,” he said.

Charlito “Chip” Tolentino is the champion of the 24th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He returns to defend his title. Jack Congdon plays Chip with aplomb, Thames said. At age 15, he’s the youngest actor in the cast and is making his stage debut.

Among the adult bee organizers is Laura Bannister who plays Rona Lisa Perett, the moderator and a former champion herself. Her favorite time is the minutes before it starts, when all the children are filled with the joy of competition, before they begin to resent each other.

Vice principal Douglas Panch is played by Jeff Siegrist (notorious for his ad-libs). Panch, the bee judge, reveals he’s on a high fiber diet and under Jungian analysis. Mitch Mahoney, played by Ephraim Brown, is an ex-convict performing community service at the bee.

Completing the cast will be four volunteers chosen from the audience. “I plan go to the lobby and talk to people. Hang out looking for ordinary types willing to participate,” Thames said. Theater-goers can also call ahead to nominate someone. “Our patrons love audience participation; to feel like they are a part of the Swamp Fox Player family,” she said.

While the musical is a comedy, one that Thames would rate PG-13, there are some serious messages.

“Number one: Try to have fun in everything you do,” she said. “Number two: One never knows when a friendship will blossom, even with an enemy. And Number three: Parents need to be careful about the pressures they put on their children.”

If you go

What: “The 25th Annual Putnam Valley Spelling Bee” by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin.

When: July 21-22, 27-29 and Aug. 4-5 at 8 p.m. July 30 and Aug. 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Where: Strand Theater.

How much: $20. Call 843 527-2924 for tickets.

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