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Previews
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Bradley University Theatre Department

September 20-23 & 27-30
By Brian "Fox" Ellis

 

Hilarious - H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S – Hilarious
Definition: An Adjective meaning laugh out loud funny
Used in a sentence: The audience often roared with laughter during the hilarious Bradley University Theatre Production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

From the moment you walk into the theater and see the vinyl wall pads, hard-wood gym floor, mismatched seats, stiff aluminum benches, the dreaded climbing rope, and championship pennants hanging from the ceiling, you get a strong sense that Bradley University Theatre Department has pulled out all of the stops to create a magical night of theater. The set design actually and metaphorically sets the stage for the delight to come.
Watch that rope, and looking into the rafters you might notice that the Putnam Valley Platypi have won many championships in Falconry and Mathletics, but not so many football crowns!

As the characters come on stage to spell their first word you get a glimpse of the personal mayhem and over-the-top character flaws that keep you laughing throughout the show:
Barfee, (um BarFey’) phlegmatically embodied to great effect by Benjamin Gaddis, has a magic foot that draws out each letter on the floor.

Coneybear, zanily portrayed by Peyton McDermott, spells each word in a trance while striking an electrified pose, while maintaining his sensible silliness throughout the show.
Schwarzy, played by Alicia Thomas, traces letters on her arm then spits them into the microphone with a lisp, tongue always on display.


And when A.J. Curry as Olive shyly sings “My Friend the Dictionary” everyone’s inner nerd rejoices.

If great theater is filled great moments, then Morgan Green’s portrayal of past Spelling Bee Champion and host, Mrs. Rona Lisa Peretti, zings as she sings “my favorite moment” several times, always with genuine passion, echoing my sentiment that there are dozens of moments to love in this production:

It was wonderful to see a live band on stage, not hidden in a pit, and their percussion and melody added electric energy throughout the show.

Four audience members are chosen to be part of the bee and the judge alternates between throwing them softball words like ‘cow’ and unimaginably difficult made up words like mama se, mama sa, ma ma coo sa. Every time they come to the microphone they are given absurd introductions that smack of improvisation.

Knowing this musical began as an improv piece, there are countless moments when you are not sure if that line was spontaneous or scripted, which also speaks well of the fresh delivery of oft rehearsed lines. This is an ensemble cast with no weak links! Every actor shines:

Josiah Williams’ Vice Principal strikes a dozen perfect cords as a troubled enunciator.
Gregory Schamburger as Chip is in turn confident then frustrated with his unfortunate erection.

Laura Schirmer as Marcy bristles with self-affirmation as she sings I speak six languages.
With few lines, and fewer lead vocals, Kaybee Brown is a powerful presence as Olive’s dad, swarmy as Schwarzy’s gay father, and a tough guy with a big hug and apple juice as the official comforter performing his civil service for unspoken crimes.

There are also moments when you might sense that the choreographer, Tommy Rapley, imported from the wilds of Chicago as a guest artist, has really pushed the ability of these young dancers, but they always rise to the challenge. From exuding jazz to breezing through classic Broadway moves, from the flexibility of yogic asanas to the chaos of pandemonium, the dance beautifully echoes the emotions of each scene. In just one song, Pandemonium, the choreographer earned his keep with the contrasting tension of mayhem and synchronicity.

Actors, script, and the magical effects of great lighting worked well to truly illuminate the visions and flashbacks that were often farcical, F-A-R-C-I-C-A-L, and just as often soulful, adding genuine depth and complexity to the characters who were not automaton spelling machines, but fractured human beings trying to find love in a world that shuns those who are different. Did that sound trite? It was anything but during the show.

When Olive sings “The I Love You Song” the audience longs with her, her estranged parents appear, are embracing, stretched and torn, and then she spells chimerical, definition: created by a wildly fanciful imagination; highly improbable.

It sometimes hurts to laugh, but laugh we do.

There were ripples of giggles, waves of belly laughs, and a constant undercurrent of humor and wit. I am not alone in this belief. As I was departing the theater I heard nothing but rave reviews from the crowd. As the first show of a new season at Bradley University, with many underclassmen in the cast, I am eager to see as many shows as I can over the next few years. The director of this show and interim director of the department Steve Snyder also deserves special applause for bringing the best from his cast and crew. His efforts to host outside collaborators speak highly of his emphasis on challenging and inspiring his students, and enriching the Greater Peoria Theater community. I am also looking forward to our local morning news guy Garry Moore directing “A Raisin in the Sun” later in the season.

If you wish to see Bradley University’s hilarious production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling be you have until September 30th to get yourself over to the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. Call 677-2650 for tickets, call now, before they are gone, G-O-N-E, gone! Performances are at 8 p.m. Sept. 20-22, 27-29 and 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 and 30. Tickets are $9 for students; $14 for Bradley faculty, staff and senior citizens; and $17 for adults. For tickets, call 309-677-2650.

Posted September 24, 2012

 
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