Welcome to the 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. The live immersive buzzing production of the ‘Spelling Bee’ from LUU’s Musical Theatre Society performed in Pyramid Theatre on the 8th 9th and 10th of December 2022. The minute you step into Pyramid theatre, you’re in a live American TV show. Producer, Ben Nuttall, and assistant, Cara Staniforth, truly had created a natural and real atmosphere that we are a live audience watching and are a part of the Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. The layout was clear and simplistic with the desk of Rona Lisa Peretti (Ellen Corbett) and Douglas Panch (Henry Marshall). The two have worked hard to create perfect dynamic between the two of them, and it shows. In the other corner is a two-tiered stand for spellers and audience participants to sit whilst waiting. Then in the centre a platform and a microphone for the spellers and presenters to use to come up.
The family-friendly version American humour in this show had an easy blend into the immersive environment comfortably aiding the audience as they react with cheers and claps to the silly semi-improvised comedy of the characters. A show like this relied so heavily on the ensemble Bethan Green, Eva Lafontan, Amelia Perry and Cara Saniforth (yes, she really did both this and the A.P. role!) The audience participation as spellers ran through with the individual commentary of the characters’ lives; a perfect and particularly specific style. The comedic-fashion seemingly worked well with all the audience, giving the feel that this is a show we are a part of. We have our own personal and immersive experience of the 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. For example, Mitch ‘Don’t give a fuck’ Mahoney (Zak Muggleton Gellas) and I had our very own moment together when they walked down the stairs to sit down in the beginning of the show when all the spellers swarmed into the theatre.
Photos by Abby Swain.
Characterisation was a particular strength of this show, within the writing and execution both. Director, Freya Mactavish and A.D. Imogen Bandfield did an exceptional and immaculate creation of these alongside the actors themselves. Each had their own complete and exact personality and accent with their own representative colour. When dancing they jointly created a rainbow, and incredibly childlike sweetness ensuing their positions. The distinction and who they all were was clear from the start and you meet their personalities instantly just from their body movements. The American accents, especially with each individual character, was incredible, the accents all coherently worked with their character and the characterisation of body language. The character development was immaculately done to perfection. There was, however, one aspect I felt confused on. How old were they? A character during the show implies that speller Chip Tolentino (Cameron Mullins) non-intentionally had an erection, and is used as a comedic device for the moment. If they are under the age of 16 is this really appropriate?
Specifically the creation of Logaine Schwartzy (Erin Gazeley) and Olive Ostrovsky (Lydia May) were particularly amazing. Both slightly shy modest girls, but with a growing confidence and pressure as the competition went on. Furthermore, Josh Philips’ performance of his character William Barfee’s ‘Magic foot’ was the perfect example of the brilliant engagement from the actors to the audience. They truly did bridge the gap between us and them.
The general chemistry between all the actors on stage was really heart-warmingly beautiful to experience. Jenna Bowman (who played the mother of Olive Ostrovsky) and her daughter were heartbreaking, a truly lonely moment on the stage. Contrasting points included where Marcy Park (Caitlin Etheridge) and Leaf Coneybare are sat on the benches with audience participants and take a selfie mid-show are particular favourites. Not forgetting the ensemble, the full cast’s energy is constantly bouncing off the walls, and filling up the space between us and them. There were no faults at all. The diction of their dialogue and singing brought such a tonal range that carried through-out the entire performance. The immersive interaction and movements of the characters on the stage was a beautiful chaos and improvisation never failed to be comedic it worked perfectly.
Of course, this show was a musical. The numbers ‘Life is a Pandemonium’ and ‘I’m not that Smart’ solo by Leaf Coneybea (Harry Toye ) were perfection. The lighting of the rainbow and use of space on the stage with the characters explosiveness of their lives and energy brought to the stage was beautiful story. It was times like this that I truly felt like I was watching a Disney channel slow mow moment. A touching and sentimental moment happened during the show that gently touched-up the difference between young boys and young girl’s personal confidence in winning the Spelling Bee.
The flawless and slick lighting from Production Manager, Jay Sunley & A.P.M., Jess Simmons that unmissable timing through-out with unison transitions from one scene to the next so unbelievably coherent with the music from the band. Musical Director, Alex Boulton and A.M.D. Jennie Bodger, did an astounding job with Jay and Jess. There was no moment that the sound and lighting did not overlap or miss each other. I however do wish that the band had more involvement within the immersive experience, since they were so visible to the audience. Alas, the life of the stage as it was, was enough to make the show exceptional. Not to a cast’s hint to the spotlight technician that brings to life the American live TV show atmosphere, the perfect timing to spotlight the speller on stage was never missed.
The Spelling Bee was a beautiful rainbow explosion of lively characters, a fun-loving show for everyone to enjoy and participate in! A ginormous congratulations on the cast and production team. I believe it would ‘not be possible without each and everyone involved.
The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee was performed in Pyramid Theatre on the 8th-10th of December 2022 and produced by LUU Musical Theatre society.