San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

SDSU Theater Review: ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

The School of Theatre, Television and Film stages the department’s most recent production
Ken Jacques
Cast and crew of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is the current musical produced by San Diego State University’s School of Theatre, Television and Film.

The show follows six kids as they participate in their local spelling bee, as well as the eccentric adult hosts overseeing the event.

While it is a fairly simple plot for a musical, the show’s charm comes from the fact that all of the child characters are played by grown adults. Hannah Martinez-Crow, a fourth-year theater performance major, was all too familiar with the concept.

“I often get cast as characters that are a lot younger than me so this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I’m pretty short,” Martinez-Crow said.

Martinez-Crow portrayed the role of Marcy Park, an intense perfectionist who is described as being “all business.”

“When playing Marcy, it was important for me to understand her physicality and the way that the pressure she faces manifests in her movement,” she said. “I make sure when I play younger people that their wonder doesn’t come across as stupidity.

This musical was unique for breaking the fourth wall and having audience participation. When the audience first sat in their seats, they were there to see a musical. Once Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Natalie McClure, asked them to turn off their cell phones, the audience was there to watch a spelling bee.

McClure called roll for the other people participating in “the bee”: volunteers who got up alongside the characters to spell.

“My favorite part of the show was the audience volunteer section because, in addition to writing my own jokes, I was able to utilize my improv skills to keep the audience entertained,” said Milo Mee, a second-year musical theater performance major.

Every character in this musical was just a little bit odd and had their own set of quirks. Vice Principal Panch, played by Mee, introduced himself by apologizing for “the incident” five years ago. We never learn what that incident was; he only says, “it’s amazing what a change of diet can do for a man.” Each character’s weird traits and absurdities make this musical a great piece of comedy.

The production ran from Oct. 28 through Nov. 3.

Justin Brill, a first-year musical theater Master of Fine Arts student portrayed the character of William Barfée, an eccentric contestant who uses his foot to spell the words before saying the letters out loud.

“I had a blast in the show and am very proud of the work that the entire company, including the production staff, designers and crew, put into mounting this show in the middle of the semester,” Brill said.

A standout performance came from Van Baum in the role of Leaf Coneybear. Being written as even more of an oddball than the other kids, it is easy to make Leaf seem annoying or stupid. However, Baum’s performance makes the character earnest, honest and kind. In his bright yellow Crocs and a see-through purple jelly vest filled with LEGO pieces, the character was a comedic highlight with a very sweet story.

Unfortunately, this production has a pretty big drawback in that an ensemble was created. The script does not have a traditional musical ensemble because the whole point of the show was to be a small ensemble cast.

This is not a story that follows a single protagonist through the hero’s journey with supporting characters on the side; “Spelling Bee” gives each of the roles an equal amount of attention and an arc.

The newly-created background characters for this production were incredibly distracting. It was unclear if these characters (who all wore yellow vests and bumblebee wings) were real people, a Greek chorus, a figment of a character’s imagination or part of the scenery. They took attention away from the other actors during important dialogue and songs, which took away from the show as a whole.

While this particular production did falter a bit, it is always nice to see a musical like this being selected in the first place. In a world of demon barbers and the miserable ones, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ” is a little ray of sunlight amidst a darker musical landscape.

Its whole purpose is to make you genuinely laugh and tug at your heartstrings in all the right places. The story may be simple, but it is anything but stupid. In fact, you could even say it iss-m-a-r-t.

About the Contributor
Makayla Hoppe
Makayla Hoppe, Staff Writer
Makayla Hoppe (she/her/hers) is a journalism major and San Diego native. She is a transfer student from Grossmont College where she served as Editor-in-Chief for their newspaper, The Summit. She currently works as Assistant Editor for the San Diego Jewish Journal. Makayla enjoys writing about local live theater.
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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
SDSU Theater Review: ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’