The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by Geoids

The downside of reviewing any production is that it is extremely difficult to sit back and enjoy the performance for what it is. Notes made contemporaneously (not necessarily legible in the clear light of day) or complete reliance on mental notes mean that attention is necessarily divided. A further complication related to amateur productions is the awareness that, by definition, a polished professional standard is not necessarily possible given that everyone involved has the day job to return to next day. At the same time, an audience paying good money has the right to expect the highest standards deliverable under these conditions.

With these caveats in mind, it is therefore gratifying for this reviewer to report that this was a thoroughly enjoyable production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Evidence for this lies in the vanishingly small number of notes made during the performance. Programme biographies for the nine named performers indicate considerable experience within the company and this was much in evidence in individual performances and highly polished group numbers. Paul Brookland Williams choreographed movement which exploited existing talents but pulled everyone together with some slick co-ordination in moves which supported but never overwhelmed the material. There was never a question as to characterisation or moves. Director Franciscus Prins used the space well and succeeded in developing a great company feel. Picking at the edges however, less demonstrable confidence at the outset by the audience plant would have gone some way to maintaining the illusion that he was anything other than a random member of the audience.

It would be unfair to single out any one performance within this extremely accomplished company. Making his Geoids debut, Aaron Barriscole gained audience sympathy following his competition elimination on a technicality. Inti Conde demonstrated versatility beyond his named character, as well as a fine voice particularly in later numbers. Amy Foden was frighteningly focussed but clearly concealing her own vulnerability. James-Lee Campbell was annoyingly correct, with only one working nostril, peanut allergy, “magic spelling foot” and tap dancing ability, he was ultimately still likeable through his developing crush on Olive. In this last role, Siska Greene was clearly an audience favourite in overcoming parental neglect. Dylan Evans was delightful as the gawky Leaf, contestant by default but somehow conjuring up obscure spellings in a personality transformation effectively highlighted by a coloured spot. Helen Parsons was engagingly enthusiastic, in spite of coping with two pushy gay fathers. Mark Siddall was a wonderfully awkward Vice Principal with unstated issues and an unrequited passion for former champion Rona Lisa Peretti. In this last role, as well as having a fine voice, Sara Rajeswaran made her mark from the off; likeable but clear headed.

Ed Steward led a tight five piece band, having schooled some terrific individual and group vocal performances. Sound balance by Mark Steward was supportive for the most part but there was occasional favouring of musicians over vocalists which compromised lyric audibility. Amy Worrall’s lighting design was sympathetic to production style, with judicious use of “specials” as appropriate.

Apart from heat generated in the auditorium which would have benefitted from additional ventilation (clearly not in control of the company) the caveats outlined in the introduction to this piece were unfounded. This was a polished production approaching professional standards, with the audience definitely getting its money’s worth.

Review by Robin Kelly

To find out more about Geoids you can visit their website here and keep an eye out for their next show, Spring Awakening.

If you like this review of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee you might also like my review of A Little Night Music and The Pajama Game, both by Geoids and Crazy for You, currently on at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.

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