By Brittany Hanson/Garden Grove Journal
Two dads, a dinosaur puppet, rolling shoes, difficult names and great expectations are all a part of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” where you won’t stop laughing.
From beginning to end, this show is great entertainment. If you’ve ever questioned your parents, felt awkward as a child, thought you weren’t smart enough, were pushed too hard or had a childhood crush, then you’ll be able to connect with the show.
Directed by Damien Lorton, the book is by Rebecca Sheinkin with music and Lyrics by William Finn.
To set the scene, The Gem’s stage at 12852 Main S. in Garden Grove has been transformed into anyone’s middle school gym.
Enter Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Adriana Sanchez, a former spelling bee champ of days gone by. Peretti is excitable, and according to her, every part of the spelling bee is her favorite part.
She flashes back to her big win (flashbacks are a huge part of the show) and is overcome by the emotions of the win. Next to the stage is the succession of the rest of the cast, who will crowd onto the bleachers or hustle behind the organizers’ table.
The cast of characters includes Logainne SchwartzandGrubenniere, played by Nicole Cassesso, Leaf Coneybear, played by Danny Diaz, Marcy Park, played by Reesa Ishiyama, Mitch Mahoney, played by TJ Mundy-Punchard, Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Kyle Myers, Chip Tolentino, played by Andrew Paskil, Olive Ostrovsky, played by Rebecca Silverman and William Barfee, played by Matt Takahashi.
This really is one of those shows where there is truly something good to say about everyone. The only complaint would be that at one point, Ishiyama’s voice was drowned out by the musical accompaniment.
Cassesso’s character was adorably awkward as the young activist with two dads. Her disappointment when she misses a word is not just for her, but for letting down America. Her sadness changes not only her voice, but posture, face and pronunciation and is palpable from stage.
Diaz as Coneybear was hilarious. Possibly the best incorporation of rolling shoes and a dinosaur puppet the stage has seen.
Ishiyama made Marcy Park the perfect overachieving product of overbearing parents.
Mundy-Punchard’s character Mahoney is a parolee who shines in the background with wit and versatility for when he steps in as a parent representation in flashbacks and hilarious when he sends the audience participators off the stage.
The vice principal, Kyle Myers, is the perfect mix of harsh, frustrated and lastly kind. The way he interacts with the characters in the play and the audience members is well timed, very funny and expressively acted without pushing it over the edge.
Paskil makes Tolentino, the returning Bee champ, sweet and adorable and still strained and awkward in the throes of adolescent love/like/he doesn’t know yet.
Silverman takes her character Olive from a sad little girl who doesn’t have the best home life to a powerhouse songstress in “The I Love You Song.” The song is about wishing for the care she wants to have from her parents. She doesn’t need any amplification whatsoever.
Finally, William Barfee, played by Takahashi, is not-so entertaining. According to all accounts, he has taken his character into a new light, not playing him as most try to. The results are side-splitting funny.
This is definitely not a show to miss. “The Putnam County Spelling Bee” will be on stage at The Gem until April 17. Tickets are $25 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday showtimes at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Call (714) 741-9550 x 221.