by Sierra Hoffman
Although a spelling bee may not seem like the most exciting setting for a musical, audiences at George Mason High School were recently charmed by the sweet, comedic and overall exciting energy of the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
The musical follows six young spellers as they compete in their county spelling bee. Each speller grows along the way, discovers more about themselves and matures with the help of three eccentric adults running the bee.
The show opened in 2005 on Broadway and on the West End in 2011. Known for its audience participation and ad libbed one-liners, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” took home a Tony for best book in 2005 and is performed without an intermission.
An outstanding performance was by Lydia Gompper, who played Olive Ostrovsky, the shy, nerdy girl who eventually blossoms.
Gompper’s portrayal of the transformation from timid and nervous to mature and self confident was done with an elegance matched only by her beautiful vocals, demonstrating a strong range on songs like “My Friend the Dictionary” and “The I Love You Song.”
Another memorable performance of the night was Mitch Mahoney, the comfort counselor of the bee. As the punk-rocker fulfilling service hour requirements, Michael Curtin embodied the multi-layered character and supported his choices with his strong vocals in the song, “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.”
The ensemble of spellers worked beautifully together. They each captured the essence of being a child in their actions and voices. A standout in this sense is Miles Jackson, who played Leaf Coneybear, the immature quirky contestant who doesn’t seem to fit in with his peers.
Jackson used his lack of inhibitions to his advantage, creating beautiful moments of comedy. Although most of the cast is onstage for the entire show without a break, all the actors kept up their strong choices the entire time, and were always in character.
The ensemble had beautiful tight harmonies and impressively strong vocals in group numbers like “The Goodbye Song” and “Pandemonium.” The technical elements of the show were truly outstanding. The orchestra was excellently timed and paced, and the balance between vocals and instrumentals was practically perfect.
The static set was well constructed, designed, and dressed, and included incredibly creative elements such as a rope swing and basketball hoops. The costumes were character appropriate and helped give more depth to each actor’s portrayal.The lighting design worked well with the simple set to help create many moods and the illusion of multiple random locations.
The charming energy of the cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” made for a solid, enjoyable and hilarious performance for all ages.