‘Putnam County’ is hilarious fun

By Eric McCrea



“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” hasn’t been around for 25 years. But Stage Left Players has, so the theater company is staging the comic musical.

This show revolves around a county-wide spelling bee, featuring adults playing competitive and idiosyncratic kids. The bee is run by former champion Rona Lisa Peretti, played by Kandace Cleland, and school Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Eric Kibler.) The competitors are introduced, and then the fun ensues as, slowly but surely, they face the dreaded elimination bell.

Director Reed Worth found a great cast for letting this show flourish. With a cornucopia of bombastic characters and great actors who let them fly, this show was a great choice for the Stage Left Players.

Jacob Ward was awesome as William Barfee. His mannerisms and vocalizations were impeccable and hilarious, coming through most during his song “Magic Foot.” He wasn’t necessarily the audience’s favorite to win, but they sure didn’t want to have to say goodbye.

Zeb Zehentbauer was ebullient in the role of Chip Tolentino. His energy and passion were contagious, and he easily crooned “Chip’s Lament.”

Allyson DePanicis had loads of fun as Leaf Coneybear, the home-schooled kid with lots of siblings. She was seraphic during her song “I’m Not That Smart,” and her vociferous spelling style was my favorite.

Kaleigh Ceci, the youngest cast member, proved she could handle pretending to be a kid with the rest of the adults. Her character Logainne is political and confident, despite her father’s unscrupulous assistance. Her costume was fun, and her hair looked like it took real dedication. Her song “Woe is Me” was a blast and worth reprising.

AnnaMaria Jadue had a great voice, which was useful during her songs “I Speak Six Languages” and “Jesus.” Her demeanor was somewhat cold and stoic, befitting her no-nonsense, overachieving character.

Niki Slaven was sweet and sympathetic as Olive Ostrovsky, the de facto love interest. She set the tone early with her song “My Friend the Dictionary” and carried it through to the end.

The show stays true to its improv origins by inviting special audience members on stage to compete, and many of Kibler’s example sentences are ad lib. Cleland and Kibler had a natural rapport, which aided them in their off-the-cuff dialogue. The pair also impressed during the “Spelling Montage.”

Roz Blystone was a hoot in the pants of Mae Mahoney. She was more demure than what you’d typically find in the role, and the songs didn’t really showcase the best parts of her voice, but she was hilarious.

“Putnam County” isn’t the kind of show that takes itself too seriously, but my thesaurus got a serious workout while I wrote about it. Etymologists and Bee devotees across the Valley should definitely include this show in their schedule.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will run Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Oct. 22. For reservations, call the Stage Left Players at 330-831-7249. The theater is at 234 E. Lincoln Way, Lisbon.

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