Eagle Theater’s Director Ted Wioncek III has found a way to keep the energy alive and demonstrates the best way to use cheesy and slapstick humor in writers Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Conceived by Rebecca Feldman Spelling Bee is more about six geeky kids learning how to cope with success and failure, with being popular or being bullied, facing parental pressure or lack of parental guidance smack in the middle of puberty.
Adding to the mix are the screwy adults Spelling Bee host and ex-spelling bee champ Rona Lisa Peretti (Maria Panvini) who is not quite ready to turn in her trophy paired with the pretentious, insecure Vice Principal Douglas Panch ( Paul Weagraff). Panvini and Weagraff make for a hilarious Odd Couple with Panvini showing off a stellar singing voice throughout the madness. The role of Mitch Mahoney, the “comforter” to those spellers who are disqualified is played by Ed Santiago. While Santiago showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the role, it wasn’t a great fit for the character in my opinion.
As for the six over/under achieving Bee participants; they are a pretty impressive bunch playing their characters to the full. Justine Ercole (Olive Ostrovsky), Samantha Morrone (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre), Will Baez (Leaf Coneybear), Kevin Hurley (William Barfee), Tom Blemings (Chip Tolentino), Nikki Giapoutzis (Marcy Parks). Standout performances were offered by the incredibly cheesy/funny Kevin Hurley and Justine Ercole, who brought a heartfelt presence to the role of Olive.
Moves by choreographer Dianne Certo Jackowski were creative, flowing and proved that these kids could not only spell but use their “magic feet” when called upon to do so.
The musical score is far more catchy than memorable and advances the plot nicely with the exception of “The I Love You” song which becomes a torch song for all the emotions young Olive is going through and nicely sung by Olive and her parents (Panvini and Santiago).
The Eagle theater is indeed turning into “the place to be” for quality entertainment in the culturally alive town of Hammonton as they mount an interesting mix of shows for their 2013 Season including “A Chorus Line”, “HAIR”, “Lombardi”, and Broadway’s winning, uniquely funny musical comedy “Urinetown”.
For tickets and information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or 609.704.5012