The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Review - You'll Be Spellbound

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the latest offering from the finest high school theatrical program in greater Philadelphia – namely, the Cape and Sword Drama Society of Saint Joseph’s Prep. (Disclosure: We are proud alumni.)

We review many professional theatrical productions on this site. That having been said, what Cape and Sword offers is, de facto, professional-quality theatre - the pinnacle of what an amateur program can be.

The reason for the quality: Tony Braithwaite '89 has now been at the helm of the program for over 15 years, and is currently the artistic director at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA.

Upon arrival, you really do feel as if you’ve just entered the auditorium of the Putnam Valley Middle School, in a geographically ambiguous town somewhere in America. And that you are a local resident, who is a genuine spectator at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This is due to the panoply of blue-and-gold Putnam Valley Middle School championships hanging from the catwalks of the theatre.

We will give away none of the jokes. All we’ll say is that you’ll be in for many surprises, including some you never imagined. Unlike some shows, the title isn’t cryptic – it’s about a spelling bee. Perhaps you wouldn’t think spelling bees would be rich veins for comedic ore – but you won’t think so, after the show. And we’ll leave it at that.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has a distinctly 21st-century vibe. Spelling bees are traditional, but have not only survived but thrived, thanks to ESPN and movies like Spellbound. The cast gives the audience a genuine glimpse into the unique challenges – and opportunities – of being a contemporary adolescent.

The Cast

Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Luke Mazurek ’13) and Rona Peretti (Quinn O’Brien MSJA ’13) preside over the proceedings from stage left, and deliver many funny lines, as the impresarios of the farcical spelling bee. Peretti offers intriguing factoids about each contestant, inter alia.

Accordingly, each contestant is given an individualized personality: sometimes comical, sometimes serious, and usually both.

Marcy Park (MaryKate Glenn MSJA ’13) is a dutiful, earnest, and highly intelligent speller. Leaf Coneybear (Red Cunningham ’13) lacks her intelligence, and is quite entertaining in doing so. William Barfee (Paul Mancano ’13) has a lot of physical humor, thanks to his highly innovative spelling technique. Chip Tolentino (Brendan McHale ’14) must contend with arcane spelling-bee rules.

Logaine Schwartz-Grubenierre (Allie Zito MMA ’14) and the wild-haired Olive Ostrovsky (Juliana Angelone MMA ’14) expertly share personal descriptions of life in their respective families’ households, and the effects they have on their spelling skills.

Fortunately, Putnam Valley Middle School offers the stressed-out spellers emotional support. They have the services of the – how can we put it? – “uniquely skilled” Mitch Mahoney as the Comfort Counselor, who serves due to his atypical personal background, played superbly by Michael Rizzo ’13.

Finally, a talented ensemble of students round out the cast, and play important roles in the comic spectacle. Of course, all the behind-the-scene students – the stage and running crew, lighting crew, etc., also play vital roles in the show’s success.

There is a fine dramatic element, as well – the identity of the winner of the spelling bee. We genuinely had no idea whom it would be, and we actually guessed wrong at the end, even with only two possibilities.

First performed in 2005, the Tony Award-winner is becoming more popular. We think it’s destined to become a mainstay of high school theatrical programs.

If You Go

Go to sjprep.org for more info on the North Philadelphia college preparatory school. The $10 tickets go quickly, and often sell out.

Friday, 11/9: 7:00 PM
Saturday, 11/10: 8:00 PM
Sunday, 11/11: 3:00 PM

Wednesday, 11/14: 7:00 PM
Thursday, 11/15: 7:00 PM
Friday, 11/16: 8:00 PM
Saturday, 11/17: 8:00 PM
Sunday, 11/18: 3:00 PM

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