★★★★☆ - Delicious
Can you spell…
The word is lighthearted. Can you use it in a sentence, please?
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” gets its third production in ten years as Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT) presents the lighthearted musical comedy for a second time (the first was during the summer of 2009). With Drama Desk and Tony awards, and productions all over the place ever since, consider it a new American classic.
With a book by Rachel Sheinken and music and lyrics by William Finn it’s bouyant fun but still contains a few messages about overbearing or absent parents, and acceptance of disappointment and quirkiness. When adults play kids – and put their hearts into it – it’s almost always a sure-fire winner.
Again Directed for LVLT by Walter Niejadlik, this time around opening night lacked a spark. Blame it on opening night jitters, or maybe cast exhaustion (hey, rehearsing musicals is a long, tough process), because the ensemble is obviously talented. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun or funny – it was just…off somehow. But the “kids” don’t steal the show and that’s a good thing.
Reprising his role as Vice Principal Panch, Brian Scott was still in top comedic form. From droll to exasperation to snarky, his delivery was exceptional, matching tone and facial expression to elicit the perfect response. He’s always in the moment; give him a reason to deadpan and he’ll bring down the house with a simple look.
Melissa Riezler, as Rona Peretti, also plays an adult role as she joined Scott to administer and host the spelling bee. Her soprano was lilting and smooth, her comedic timing right on target.
The surprise in the cast is Blake Michael Boles as Mitch Mahoney. His portrayal of a parolee to comfort those who mis-spell and ensure they leave the premises is pitch-perfect with a blend of bully and heart. Given “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” which is a soul-filled, raise-the-rafters song, Boles does it justice from the first note.
Newcomer Andrew Driovich plays William Barfee, the kid who needs to spell each word out on the floor with his “magic” foot. It’s what makes the character lovable. That Driovich chose not to was a complete disappointment. He’s got a gorgeous baritone that booms and blended beautifully during ensemble numbers. The character also has an issue with his sinuses and should speak with a nasally tone, except Driovich turned it into a speech impediment to the point of being garbled and difficult to understand.
Ray Winters brought a wonderful innocence to the role of Chip Tolentino, the boy who gets disqualified over a very unfortunate incident. His tenor on “Chip’s Lament” was clear and he found the right mixture of embarrassment and wholesome fun.
The remainder of the ensemble of April Sauline, Michael Kaczurak, Sarah Adams, and Narée Asherian, deliver fine performances.
The production values are top notch, given the gymnasium designed by Rob Lindblom, lit by Ginny Adams, and sound design by Michael Olsen and Lisa Tollefson which was well executed by Ernest Medina; every line and lyric was heard.
Give this cast a couple days to settle in – or catch their breath – and seeing adults playing kids should be thoroughly enchanting; e-n-c-h-a-n-t-i-n-g, enchanting.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept 22
2 p.m. Saturday, Sept 14
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre-Mainstage, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $22 / $25 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Walter Niejadlik; Musical Director: Toby McEvoy; Choreographer: April Sauline; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound Design: Michael Olsen, Lisa Tollefson; Costume Design: Rose Magee; Stage Manager: Cindy Lee Stock