In review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

This weekend, Putnam County is coming to Lafayette, and they’re hosting a spelling bee.

Well, sort of.

The Ole Miss theater department is producing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a hilarious musical about six oddball preteens and their three bizarre chaperones.

Directed by Rory Ledbetter and choreographed by Rene Pulliam, this show could easily be the best production of the season. Saving the best for last, this rousing production will leave you dreaming about your childhood and thinking, “Wow, were we this weird/awkward/quirky/sexual?”

The answer is yes, and the cast overall delivers a spot-on performance.

Emily Wicks takes the cake with her energetic characterization of Rona Lisa Peretti. While Wicks is in the process of recovering from laryngitis, she still kept the number one realtor in Putnam County’s wit on cue, never missing a beat. While her voice may shake a bit from time to time when she gets into the rafters, her effort overrides her illness.

Senior Ashley Mitchell plays the precious Olive Ostrovsky, a little girl with invisible parental support and one friend: the dictionary. From the moment her meek figure takes the stage, you want nothing more than to comfort the lonely girl with a faraway mother and workaholic father. Her extreme lovability and pure optimism of a child gives Olive a dimension that surpasses the other five. There is not a more fitting way to say goodbye than to go out on top, and Mitchell does just that.

Junior Sam Damare storms the stage as the misunderstood bully of the competition, William Barfee. Taking a drastically different approach than the original, Damare wins your heart with his honest and emotional performance. The hysterical outbursts and intriguing quirks leave you laughing longer each time, and he easily has one of the strongest performances of the cast. It’s rare to see a bully with a soft side, but it’s impossible to leave the theater without loving Barfee, at least a little bit.

Sadly, mixed in with the wonderful is a dud. Maegan Ewing plays the quiet Marcy Park, an overachiever to the highest degree, but Ewing ends up giving an underwhelming performance with no energy and zero choices. Whether she was staring idly into space or not singing at all, her lack of enthusiasm and effort brought the group down. With one of the most active solos in the show, her barely-there smile left nothing to be desired. Her lack of choices stood out most while seated in the center of the other five children who were all doing something while she simply did nothing. Not for me, and not for the show.

Nick Bredosky takes Mitch Mahoney, a thug doing community service , and turns him into…well, a thug with a gorgeous voice. His sharp movements and fancy footwork make him one of the more attention-grabbing featured roles, and Bredosky’s velvety voice bring goosebumps.

One of the highlights of the show is the costumes. While these five foot something “children” are obviously nowhere near the age they portray, Ruthie Fenger’s design brings the kids to life, from Leaf’s homemade cape to Chip’s Boy Scout badges. The color palette mixed with the blank backdrop makes the children pop to life with an “I dressed myself today” look and brings the final touches of authenticity to the decked out gymnatorium.

Within the past month, the theater department has invested in some new lighting technology, and the difference is quickly visible. The quick attention shift from left to center without the shakiness of a human-operated spot brought a crisp look to the beautiful lighting design by Paul Kennedy.

From the moment the banner welcoming you to Fulton Chapel is visible, Putnam County Middle School becomes a reality, basketball goal and all.

A top-notch performance that is not to be missed, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will make you laugh, melt your heart and (maybe) make you cry in under two hours.

What better way to unwind for a brief second during a study break than to support your UM theater department and laugh a lot.

Stay tuned, fellow theater patrons – the season has been announced for next year, and someone may be paying a lot of “RENT” to use the Ford Center…

@ The Daily Mississippian — Oxford, Miss.

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