Category Archive for: ‘Judy Richter’

Adolescent angst on display in ‘Spelling Bee’

Early adolescence isn’t easy. Just ask the six finalists in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” presented by Hillbarn Theatre.

All of them bring their own brand of angst to the school gym where Rona Lisa Perretti (Tracy Chiappone), a previous winner and now a successful Realtor, serves as emcee. They get their words — most of them far from everyday vocabulary — from Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Steve Repetti).

The other adult on hand is the menacing Mitch Mahoney (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias), who’s doing his court-ordered community service by being a comfort counselor. When contestants are eliminated, he sends them off with a hug and a juice box.

Last year’s winner, Chip Tolentino (Jeffrey Brian Adams), wearing his Boy Scout uniform, is confident of winning again, but he’s embarrassingly distracted by a girl in the audience.

The loopy Leaf Coneybear (Justin Travis Buchs) has hippie parents who home-school him and his many siblings.

The pert, politically aware Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere (Courtney Hatcher) has two gay dads who fuss over her and try to give her an unfair advantage.

Slobbish, conceited William Barfee — rhymes with “parfait” — (Joey McDaniel) has health issues and uses his foot to write words before spelling them aloud.

Overachieving Asian American Marcy Park (Catrina Manahan) seems quite sure of herself, but she’s the product of demanding parents and sleeps only three hours a night.

The mother of winsome Olive Ostrovsky (Samantha Rose Cardenas) is in India on a spiritual journey, while her father tends to neglect her.

All of this information unfolds during about 95 intermissionless minutes. Interspersed are songs by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin with lyrics by Finn, all accompanied by musical director Rick Reynolds on keyboard with five other musicians in the backstage band. Choreography is by Riette Burdick-Fallant.

Directed by Linda Piccone, the cast is generally strong, although Buchs overdoes Leaf’s quirkiness. A few scenes could use more directoral restraint, and the sound by Alan Chang can be too loud.

Most of the cast sings well, especially powerhouse Chiappone as the emcee.

The set is by Yusuke Soi with lighting by Ellen Brooks. The character-specific costumes are by Valerie Emmi.

Contestants also include four audience volunteers who get easy words before obscure ones send them off with Mitch’s hug and a juice box.

Overall, it’s a fun show with a few topical references tossed in, such as Sarah Palin’s recent endorsement of Donald Trump for president.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will continue through Feb. 7 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit


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