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Theater Review: ACT Casts A Spell With ‘Putnam County Spelling Bee’



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RIDGEFIELD — For the close of its first full season, ACT of Connecticut has produced a rousing, irresistible rendition of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with music and lyrics by William Flynn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, and conceived by Rebecca Feldman.

Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum, the performance is a high energy, fast-paced myriad of teenage angst and dreams in a competitive setting that raises the stakes.

Announcing the competition, Rona Lisa Perretti (played by Amy Hutchins), real estate agent and former winner of the Bee, is in her glory as she sings songs of the lifelong honor winning this small town prize affords.

She takes her seat besides Vice Principal Douglas Panch (John C. Baker), who has returned, after a curious hiatus, to participate in the events of the Bee.

The kids come from all over the county, comprising a broad range of characters, such as the goofy and earthy Leaf Coneybear (Graham Baker) as well as the returning champion, Chip Tolentino (Colin Miyamoto), whose hormones get the best of him.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre (Emma Tattenbaum-Fine) is an up-and-coming feminist under pressure from her two dads to win at all costs. There is also the magically footed and mispronounced William Barfee (Phil Sloves) and Marcy Park (Sumi Yu), who is seeking liberation from excellence in her every undertaking. Then there is the precious and neglected Olive Ostrovsky (Morgan Billings Smith).

Fulfilling his court-ordered community service hours is comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney (Ryan Williams), who rounds out this cockamamie crew.

The competitors are each provided equal time to convey their histories and deepest concerns as they spell their hearts out. The vocal skill of this entire cast is on full display and splendid as they tell their stories. Each speller is introduced with a revealing and silly anecdote perfectly delivered by Rona.

Three audience members are chosen to participate in the Bee, adding another layer of spontaneity and humor to the already charming musical.

As they dance and sing non-stop, the entire cast shines. Choreographer Ilana Ransom Toeplitz has arranged robust routines that this phenomenal cast execute enthusiastically, without missing a note.

Scenic Designer Jack Mehler has created a colorful school gym setting with moving parts, which, combined with the efforts of lighting designer Marika Kent, easily and effectively re-oriented the setting.

Standouts from this truly excellent cast include Amy Hutchins as Rona Lisa Perretti. Her hilarious delivery of each quip is challenging to keep up, yet she does so over and over. She is a lovely performer.

Giving an utterly profound and gorgeous performance, Morgan Billings Smith is captivating. Her character’s sweet, innocent nature is apparent in her every move. Every inch of this actor is fully engaged with her character, and it is moving.

The first season closer of ACT is not to be missed. While it may not be host to the octo-champs of last month’s historic Scripps Spelling Bee, The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee at ACT is a rollicking romp of a good time with a meaningful message of what really matters, delivered by a spectacular cast.

Performances continue to June 23, Thursday through Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The theater is at 36 Old Quarry Road in Ridgefield.

Call 475-215-5433 or visit actofct.org for details and reservations.

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