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Tantallon Community Players The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

By • Jun 1st, 2010 • Category: Reviews
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Tantallon Community Players
Harmony Hall Regional Center, Ft. Washington, MD
Through June 13th
$15/$12 Students and Seniors
2:00 with one intermission
Reviewed May 28th, 2010

In their program, Tantallon Community Players posits that they are about to present high-quality entertainment at a reasonable price. In this day and age, where many community theaters are charging $20 or more for tickets, they certainly come through on the reasonable price. But, as anyone who has worked in theater knows, it can sometimes be a struggle to reach real quality on a limited budget. Happily, they seemed to find a way to keep their promise. Despite a few imperfections, Tantallon Community Players presented an overall entertaining production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that anyone who has the chance should definitely go and see.

The show centers on a group of six over-achieving elementary school students in the course of the county Spelling Bee. It seems as if their entire lives hinge on winning or losing this one competition. It is a hysterical look into the effects of our competitive society on young children. The fact that these children are portrayed by adults adds to the hilarity.

When you enter, the first thing that is apparent is a really excellent set design. It is extremely simple but extremely clean. You actually feel like you are peering in on a realistic elementary school cafeteria. It instantly sets the tone even before the actors takes the stage.

If nothing else, the performances of Charles Watley and Kenny Waters make this a must-see experience. Watley portrays Leaf Coneybear, a homeschooled competitor who initially is concerned that he is not smart enough to be competing. Watley stays completely in character from the time he steps on stage. His comedic timing and delivery is impeccable. Waters portrays Mitch, the “comfort counselor.” Mitch is completing his community service hours by performing this job at the Bee. Waters was so convincing that I first wondered if he was just really this type of character in real life. The major brilliance of the performances by both this men is fully revealed when they also play the fathers of one of the characters. Watley transforms from self-conscious and child-like into a tough-as-nails, drill-sergeant-like spelling coach, and Waters transforms from knife-wielding thug to cake-baking nurturer. Waters even further shows his amazing technique and skill when he briefly plays a different character’s father and just as seamlessly transforms into a third, completely different character. Both men also demonstrated strong vocals, and Waters voice has an especially rich and pleasing tone. Overall, these were two of the best performances that I have seen in local theater.

Other practically flawless performances come from Samantha Battersby, Scotty Beland, and Robert Rausch. Despite the fact that she is not quite up to the challenge vocally, Battersby’s Olive is such a consistent character who is just an absolute joy to watch that you can’t help but love everything that comes out of her mouth. Beland creates a complete character, which is completely different from the way the character was played on Broadway but works and is entertaining in a new and unique way. Like several of the others, no matter what is going on, if you look at Beland, he is doing something that is both in-character and interesting. Rausch’s portrayal of Vice-Principal Douglas Panch is so natural that you really believe they plucked him out of a school somewhere and that he is not acting at all.

Kate Dehnis, Aimee Bonnet, and Jennifer Blanton are able to hold their own despite a few missteps. Dehnis is easily the strongest vocalist in the cast, but her portrayal of Olive’s mother shows that she is unable to be any character other than Rona Lisa Peretti. Aimee Bonnet’s acting performance and character is as strong and consistent as any of the others, but her vocals in her big solo number “I Speak Six Languages” leave much to be desired. Blanton’s Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre is mostly solid, as are her vocals, but she had trouble staying in character at times and you could see her badly wanting to laugh. The only real disappointment in the cast was Frank Brizzi. He never found a consistent character and was never really believable as Chip.

A major disappointment with the production was the decision made of how to handle the “extra” spelling competitors. In the script, these should be unsuspecting audience members. By making them unsuspecting audience members, it allows for a certain humor created by the fact they are not actors and they are not familiar with the show. This production, however, made the mistake of using what appeared to be plants, including at least one board member. They may not have actually ever rehearsed with the cast, but, it was clear, that all three of the “unsuspecting” audience members were performers who knew the show and knew the cast. This led to all three of those people, especially the two women, pulling major focus. They tried to create and incorporate their own bits that fell flat. This decision completely ruined what could have been an amazing opportunity to involve real audience members and to allow for the kind of natural humor that can only arise from using actual unsuspecting participants.

Still, that one big mistake was not enough to mar the production. Overall, the direction by banafsheh wallace [sic] and choreography by Scotty Beland was strong. And, even though the AC didn’t seem to be working well in the theater, it was worth every minute to see this production. And that says a lot. The amazing performances, brilliant comedy of the script, and overall creative staging of the production made the whole so enjoyable that I absolutely recommend that everyone find time in the next two weekends to make their way to see Tantallon Community Player’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Director’s Note

Welcome to the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee! This season is special for Tantallon Community Players. From the opening 25 Carat Review to the regional premiere of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, this season has been rife with gems proclaiming our Silver (25th) anniversary. As a special coincidence, our Bee also coincides with the National Scripps Spelling Bee preliminaries (June 3) and finals (June 4)!

The Tantallon Community Players have always been dedicated to providing our community first-class entertainment at an affordable rate, keeping prices low without sacrificing quality has always been one of the many factors this hidden gem been determined to provide. You, our audience, have consistently returned to better and better shows, both familiar standards and fresh, contemporary plays and musicals that may challenge your palate. Our Choreographer, Musical Director, fearless Artistic Director, Board of Directors, Set Foreman, Costumer, Properties Specialists, Producer, Technical Director, Cast, Myself, and many others have raised the standard for what Community Theater is about. It takes a truly great team to put together a greater show; and ladies and gentlemen, we have the best team in the area.

Feel free to sit back, relax, participate if you choose, and laugh!

Cast

The Spellers

  • Chip Tolentino: Frankie Brizzi
  • Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere: Jennifer Blanton
  • Leaf Coneybear/Carl Grubeniere: Charles Watley
  • William Barfee: Scotty Beland
  • Marcy Park: Amiee Bonnet
  • Olive Ostrovsky: Samantha Battersby

The Adults

  • Rona Lisa Perretti/Olive’s Mom: Kate Dennis
  • Vice Principal Douglas Panch: Robert K. Rausch
  • Mitch Mahoney/Dan Schwartz/Olive’s Dad: Kenneth Waters, Jr.

Crew

  • Director: banafsheh wallace [sic]
  • Producer: Leslie Luuense
  • Stage Manager: John Battersby
  • Music Director: KJ Jacks
  • Choreographer: Scotty Beland
  • Set Design: banafsheh wallace [sic], Mark Holt
  • Lighting Design: Sheryl Fry
  • Sound and Light Operators: Harmony Hall Technical Staff
  • Costumes: Erica Reid
  • Hair & Makeup: Shemika Berry
  • Props: Mary Paige Hopkins, Art Greene
  • Set Painting/Dressing: Larry Carbaugh, Marilyn Weaver
  • Set Construction Foreman: Mark Holt
  • Set Construction Crew: George Roff, Larry Carbaugh
  • Publicity: Jivon Jacks
  • Program: Larry Carbaugh

Orchestra

  • Piano: John Michael Haviland
  • Synthesizer, Reeds: Will Derr
  • Bass: Dotson Burns
  • Percussion: Tim Van Blarcom

Disclaimer: Tantallon Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musical for use in church.

2 Responses »

  1. Jennifer! Thank you so much for this great review. On behalf of the entire cast of “…Spelling Bee”, we thank you and appreciate it so much. This will definitely give us the momentum to keep up the energy for the rest of the run!

  2. One correction should be made. The “extra spelling bee participants” were NOT “plants.” Audience members were asked before the show if they would be willing to participate if called, and cards were filled out for willing participants. “Rona” is new to our group and did not realize that one of the persons was a TCP board member. She simply picked out the three actual participants from the cards, based upon suggestions for picking such people in the materials provided with the show.