The Del Rey Players troupe lives up to its reputation of quality entertainment with its production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” continuing its run this weekend after premiering last night at Westchester High School, their temporary home after an electrical problem in their on-campus theater. The musical, which first premiered on Broadway in 2005, is set at an elementary school regional spelling bee and focuses on six young competitors and the three adults in charge.
This production, directed by senior theatre arts major Cassie Lundgren, bursts with the fun and energy that “Bee” was meant to exude. The actors appear to be having the time of their lives on stage – and they allow the audience to enjoy every moment to the fullest.
So often in theater, shows that are fun are also poorly acted and sloppily thrown together. Not so here, as the acting is on target, the musical talent is through the roof and Lundgren more than proves her worth as a director by allowing her actors to embrace the quirky spirit of the show and guiding them to pitch-perfect greatness.
With so much emphasis on the fun, it would seem impossible for moments of dramatic gravitas to shine through, but not only are the dramatic moments present – many of them are the highlights. This is a cast trained in both emotional heft and playful antics, and it absolutely shows.
Using a relatively small repertoire to the fullest extent, Lundgren directs all her actors to great heights. The show is an ensemble piece and each part of that ensemble is allowed to stand out. Senior theatre arts major Kelsey Hainlen is the de facto lead, and for good measure: All her big moments are among the production’s best. Several of her songs are among the best as well, none better than “The I Love You Song,” performed with fellow standouts sophomore Nelia Miller and junior Cameron-Mitchell Ware, both theatre arts majors. Hainlen, Miller and Ware bring the house down on “The I Love You Song,” harmonizing beautifully and ratcheting up the emotion in the lyrics. Miller and Ware both have beautiful voices, and they both radiate potential.
Freshman theatre arts major Dallas Mogensen makes an impact in his role as Chip Tolentino, a Boy Scout with an unfortunate problem. Mogensen gets to close out the first act and start the second with big moments, and, despite his absence for the rest of the second act, his performance remains fresh on your mind.
The other members of the ensemble include sophomore theatre arts major Jackson Kendall as wild-eyed moderator Douglas Panch, senior business major Kelsey Ion as precocious Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, junior business major Nicole Blair as the uptight Marcy and the sublimely funny sophomore communication studies and theatre arts double major Steven Jones as the spectacularly odd Leaf Coneybear. All fill their roles in the ensemble as if these were the roles they were born to play. What is so great about them all, Jones especially, is that they never drop out of character even in the moments the focus is not on them. They aren’t acting – they inhabit their characters. It is fantastic ensemble work.
Sophomore theatre arts major Joe Hospodor is a blast of fun as William Barfée, a geeky student with a special trick to remember how to spell words, but it risks becoming too much. Credit must go to Hospodor and Lundgren for knowing how to rein in his abilities, allowing the character to shine through so much of the time. My one concern was in Hospodor’s ability to keep character through the songs (nowhere is this concern more validated than in “Magic Foot”), but by the end, that concern is all but completely allayed – he still doesn’t keep his character’s voice consistent, but he keeps character fairly well.
The lighting, designed by sophomore theatre arts major Thomas Wickboldt, was in fine form at the rehearsal, helping divide scenes without the help of set changes (though it should be mentioned that Miller, pulling double duty as set designer, created an evocative and lovely set). Especially on the aforementioned “The I Love You Song,” the lighting immerses you in the world of the bee.
This may be a small production, but there is nothing insignificant about what the Del Rey Players are doing with this show. The acting is wonderful, the music is great and there is so much to love. Less is more to love when watching this “Bee.”
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will show through the remainder of this weekend and three days next week at Westchester High School, located on Manchester Ave., west of Lincoln Blvd.