Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 19, 2011

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through February 27, 2011
by Jennifer Curran

The Opera House Players production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is one of those rare but heartbreakingly wonderful theatre productions that keeps audience members laughing and thinking all the way home.

Kristy Chambrelli's pitch-perfect casting brings to the stage an ensemble cast that revels in its improvisation, rejoices in its honesty and delivers a show that raises the bar of community theatre. Juice boxes aren't this refreshing even when delivered with a gentle hug and a stuffed bee by Joshua Thompson's Mitch Mahoney.

At the opening of the show, Nicole Giguere's Rona Lisa Peretti enters center stage and welcomes the audience to the "bee." She succinctly transforms the space into a middle school auditorium and the audience becomes part of the show. Giguere is brilliant and perfectly cast for this role and her voice is show-stopping. At the end of the opening number there was a quiet pause in the house before an explosion of well-deserved applause. In Dallas Hosmer's Chip Tolentino, we are given an adolescent filled with insecurities and false bravado. His "Chip's Lament" is both painful to watch and side-splittingly hysterical. Mike King's William Barfée and his Magic Foot actually make comedy look easy. With superhero cape firmly in place and heroic poses to follow up each success and failure, James Rhone's Leaf Coneybear's  journey is told with a gentleness of spirit that young boys rarely get to wear on their sleeves and men are rarely allowed to portray on stage. A stand-out performance by Liv Gaines as Loganianne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the daughter of an over-bearing gay couple is another highlight of this wonderful musical.

Bee's emotional center falls squarely on the shoulders of Jessica Cutino's Olive Ostrovsky.  The "I Love You Song," which showcases the extraordinary vocal talents of Jessica Frye in her role as Olive's mother, tells Olive's story and surreptitiously delivers a message. Chambrelli's direction allows the moment to reveal itself beautifully.

Opera House's production of "Bee" has only one problem: empty seats in the house. Surely a travesty that could be easily rectified in deserved ticket sales and repeat viewings.