HUMC Off-Broadway, the theater group located at the Hicksville United Methodist Church at 130 West Old Country Road is presenting their seventh annual production this year, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opened Friday.
Under the theatrical direction of Daniel Kani and musical direction of Chris Russo with stage management handled deftly by Rebecca Neuhedel, the cast has meshed together to deliver a high-quality show with stellar performances. Returning cast members Katie Tauches, Ron Castillo, Matt Lafargue, Greg Frank, and Scott Stuart are joined by newcomers Emily Edwards, Clarence Ilanan, Randy Schuit, and Samantha Pontillo take the stage for a night of rollicking comedy, as well as a few truly heartfelt scenes, that will leave patrons wanting for more.
“Spelling Bee” is a musical comedy conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with music and lyrics by William Finn, with a book written by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material added by Jay Reiss. The plot focuses on a fictional spelling bee at the fictitious Putnam Valley Middle School, where six quirky students compete for the coveted title of “Champion” in the Bee, which is run by three equally quirky adults.
“Spelling Bee” has been directed in the “dropping the fourth wall” style, which Daniel Kani has used in previous productions. Audience members will be delighted by the stereo-like sound of cast members’ voices as they blend harmoniously from various areas about the stage and in the audience. Accompanied by Chris Russo on the piano as well as a pit orchestra, the music for this show is certain not to disappoint.
Katie Tauches delivers as Rona Peretti with a sing-songiness in her character that lights up the stage. Clear and operatic, this fine soprano doubles in the second act as Olive’s mother in the song, “The I Love You Song”, with delivery of such passion that one might find oneself surreptitiously wiping away tears. Katie’s animated personality as Peretti is spot on, and a sure win with the audience.
Ron Castillo’s portrayal of Vice Principal Douglas Panch is as hilarious as it is priceless. Castillo’s ability to shoot off the cuff with one-liners is one of his greatest character features as Panch; his comedic timing is a bonus to this already talented cast.
Matt Lafargue gives his character, Mitch Mahoney, the perfect edginess necessary for a recent ex-con. A hard-core badass at the beginning of the show, Lafargue allows his character to soften, which lends to an even more likeability of his character. In Act II, he joins Katie Tauches as Olive’s (Emily Edwards) father in “The I Love You Song”; the new dad brings his personal feelings to the role, which are even more apparent when he projects his booming baritone.
As Leaf Coneybear, Scott Stuart portrays him as a silly little boy, which makes the character goofy and enthusiastic, as well as incredibly likeable. Stuart lends a great energy to his song, “I’m Not That Smart”, which is sure to leave patrons rooting for him, as I was.
Clarence Ilanan’s portrayal of Chip Tolentino was straightforward and focused, with a subtle amount of cockiness in the first act, but the hilarity ensued at the end of Act I, when he was called up to spell at an inopportune moment. At the beginning of Act II, one can notice the cockiness, or rather, surliness of Chip as he assumes the role of snack hawker in the audience for being the first contestant disqualified. His song, “Distractions”, will be sure to disarm the audience with the magnificence of his voice.
Greg Frank plays William Barfee to the hilt with a cranky, nasal demeanor. His personality changes as he sings a love song to his foot (“My Magic Foot”), which is delivered in a fabulous ‘50’s fashion, showcasing Frank’s great pipes. Samantha Pontillo’s portrayal of Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre is sweet and innocent; her voice is soft and wholesome, especially as she delivers her song, “Woe is Me“. Randy Schuit, who skillfully portrays Marcy Park with bravado and an incredible swagger, lights up the stage as she sings her song, “I Speak Six Languages”. Delivery and performance during this song were absolutely flawless.
Of special note is Emily Edwards, who portrays Olive Ostrovsky with such a sweetness and raw vulnerability that it was palpable. Her sweet soprano, especially as she delivers a one-two punch with Tauches and Lafargue in “The I Love You Song,” is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Delivered by all three cast members with a plaintiveness that will make the soul ache, “The I Love You Song” is certain to dissolve the heart of the most stringent fan out there.
Performances resume tonight, Saturday March 16 at 8 pm, Sunday March 17 at 3 pm, Friday March 22 at 8 pm, and Saturday March 23 at 3 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for senior citizens and children under 12. For ticket sales or for more information, please call Ellen Giuffrida at 516-315-3472.