Vic Theatre Company’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee!

Forget the comedians . . . what you want to see at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival is musical comedy. And Vic Theatre Company’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is as outrageously hilarious as it gets!

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Long before Dance Moms took over television to examine the lives of parents living vicariously through their talented children, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee explored the issue from the other side . . . the children. What happens to the children when parents are pushing them to succeed? And it is the answer to this question which has created the eccentric, hilarious, (a little bit weird), but still very much loveable cast of competitors. From last year’s overconfident champion Chip Tolentino and the under pressure Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere to the innocent, naïve and occasionally possessed Leaf Coneybear.

This show works really well in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Lawler Theatre. The lack of divide between the audience and the stage means that the audience already feel engulfed by the show – an opportunity that Vic Theatre Company have taken advantage of starting the show from the second the doors open. ‘Bad boy’ Chip Tolentino is wandering through the audience causing the kinds of chaos that is cool in the eyes of adolescent boys while the Janitor and competition organiser Rona Lisa Perretti prepare the stage for competition. This immediately transports the audience from the Lawler Theatre into the audience at the Spelling Bee preparing them for a much more interactive and real-life experience.

The cast, a mixture of established pros and up-and-coming stars, make up an incredibly strong team. Well practiced in the art of comic timing, they are able to seamlessly transition from owning the spotlight for their respective numbers to playing a strong, supporting role as part of the small ensemble. But the best comic material and performances come when each character individually takes the stage to explore their own journeys. Highlights include Marcy Park’s (Teresa Duddy) religious journey to a lifetime of mediocrity where she receives divine permission to fail in ‘Jesus’ and ‘The I Love You Song’ when Olive Ostrovsky (Caitlin Mathieson) finally discovers her parents’ love. Plus, pretty much anything which Henry Brett does on stage as Leaf Coneybear leads the audience into hysterics – keep an eye on this one!

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It is difficult just to highlight those three performances as the entire show is filled with many amazing moments from reformed criminal serving community service, Mitch Mahoney, who breaks out of his shell at the end of Act I through to the hilarious responses from the judges when a word’s definition or context is requested!
But like any other memorable offering at this year’s comedy festival, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is not without its moments of audience involvement. In fact, four audience members are requested at the opening roll call to join their fellow competitors on stage. These rather bewildered participants have to join in the competition spelling everything from ‘cow’ to ‘giggi’ – a traditional Aboriginal spear, and even participate in full cast dance numbers no matter their dancing ability. Each participant performed admirably on opening night showing that you don’t need to be a professional to join a sock puppet performance or ace a competitive spelling test!

You wont find this much talent on any of the other comedy festival stages nor such a talented band and you only have until April 10 to join the competition. Remember that demoralising feeling when you missed out on winning a Spelling Bee at school, that is exactly how you will feel if you miss out on this show – so make sure you grab your tickets before they disappear.

Congratulations to the entire team for creating such an amazing production! After the highly acclaimed Loving Repeating and now Spelling Bee, this new theatre company is destined for great things.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is playing at Melbourne Theatre Company’s Lawler Theatre until April 10. For more information and to book tickets, visit southbanktheatre.com.au

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