From awkward erections to a magic foot, a review of: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Side-splitting, ingenious and charming. Showstoppers’ rendition of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee truly exceeded expectations this week, causing us to ask ourselves why we don’t frequent the student theatre scene more often.  […]


Side-splitting, ingenious and charming. Showstoppers’ rendition of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee truly exceeded expectations this week, causing us to ask ourselves why we don’t frequent the student theatre scene more often. 

five stars

Directed by Josh Cox, the musical centres around a competitive spelling contest, whereby nerds and eccentric tweens battle against each other in a bid to win the victorious title of spelling champion.

While its title doesn’t leave much to the imagination, its script is brimming with smutty, clever jokes that will leave you laughing your socks off. The genius execution of adult humour mixed with a smattering of dynamic, Roald Dahl-esque characters transports you back to your youth in a non-pretentious way. Josh Cox and his fellow directors must therefore be commended for their spot-on casting choices.

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The Cast and Crew. Photo credit David Aggus.

Visually stimulating from the offset, with an array of juxtaposing costumes, the opening number was energetic and boasted some impressive harmonies. Four flabbergasted audience members were hoicked up onto the stage, adding a refreshingly awkward yet hilarious dynamic to the piece, as they themselves muddled through the spelling bee and subsequent dance numbers, guided by the performers.

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Photo credit David Aggus.

Not only was the choreography slick and well executed, but it also made full use of the stage, truly complimenting the colourful musical numbers while adding to the show’s overall professional appearance. Even the entrances and exits on and off stage were not overlooked, and the close attention to detail was apparent throughout. Emma Bryant’s (Marcy Park’s) individual dance section was particularly impressive, yet detracted from the vocals somewhat. Her physicality and characterisation of Marcy’s character, however, was impeccable throughout.

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Photo credit David Aggus.

It is rare to find a cast so strong across the board. Special mention must go to Andy Banks for his truly exceptional depiction of William Barfée, both vocally and visually his characterisation was particularly poignant and his rendition of “Magic Foot” was one of the most memorable (and hilarious) musical numbers.

It is surprising to learn that Jacob Ketcher, who played Leaf Coneybear, only stepped onto the stage for the first time in 2013, as both his comic and vocal talent seemed innate and well established. His physicality and contorted facial expressions were particularly effective in his portrayal of Coneybear, while his swift, on-stage character change to one of the gay dads was convincing and did not seem at all contrived.

Cerys Beesley (Logainne Schwarzangrubenniere) should be commended for her convincing lisp – as many were convinced that it was truly authentic – and Andy Sugden (Vice Principal Panch) for his dry delivery of a plethora of comic quips, which at no point became tiresome.

Paddy Cahill (Chip Tolentino) delivered a stunning vocal performance during his solo number “My unfortunate erection”, as did Robyn Fryer (Olive Ostrovsky) in her respective numbers. Having previously seen and having been impressed by both of these performers in Rent a couple of years ago, my expectations were extremely high and they certainly did not disappoint.

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Photo credit David Aggus.

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Fryer’s powerful, emotive harmony with Peter Bridgewood and Josephine Ssemuyaba particularly stood out from the chaotic fast-paced numbers, showcasing this trio’s exceptional talents, through their ability to inject authentic emotion into an otherwise comically-driven piece.

One of the only downfalls was Ssemuyaba’s inability to fully uphold the American accent throughout the entirety of the show, yet this hardly detracted from the overall impact of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which had the audience on the edge of their seats, roaring with laughter.

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Did you see the show this week? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below.