Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Latest HJT Show Spells 'Entertainment'

by Amy Tagliaferri
Wouldn't it be fun to not only see a great show, but be in the show? Have you often wondered what it feels like to have those lights in your eyes, and hear an audience's appreciative response? This spring the Harwich Junior Theatre is giving you that chance. And HJT is also providing Cape audiences with a stellar night of entertainment too. "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" is side-splitting, pure joyful fun! Opening night the laughter resounded throughout the intimate building.
Each performance is guaranteed to be a different show with the setuo conceived by Rebecca Feldman and Jay Reiss from Rachel Scheinkin's book, with music and lyrics by William Finn. The arrangement offers you (and maybe your co-workers) a chance to be a part of the action in the first act by volunteering to be a speller with this motley crew from Putnam County. Four volunteers are prepped before each performance and then called from the audience by name. Think of the potential scenarios as a family member or friend leaps to stardom, before your very eyes!
Director Terry Norgeot knew she needed to find an exemplary cast to hadle the impromptu and inknown in every single show. Actors are always applauded for carrying on without a misstep by adlibbing and covering up a missed cue; imagine being on your toes for any possibility every night. On opening night for example, one volunteer missed an easy word and another spelled a difficult one correctly, two of the many possible developments Norgeot has to prepare her actors for. No one missed a beat.
The show's concept is centered around six quirky adolescents with three equally quirky adult moderators in a fictional spelling bee in Putnam Valley Middle School, Anytown, USA. Eileen Fisher and Michael Ernst as the moderators of the bee are spot-on and hilarious. Each definition, and "Could you please use the word in a sentence?" is very funny. (For "phylactery"--- either of a pair of square lether boxes containing Jewish religious texts--- they came up with: "Billy, put down that phylactery--- we're Episcopalians.") Kudos to Robin McLaughlin the costume designer for nailing their outfits and each of the students too. The costumes speak volumes as to character and give the audience a sense of who each person is.
Sophie Moeller playes Logainne Schwartzand grubenniere; Logainne has two dads and her last name is an interesting variation in lieu of hyphenation. Moeller is very expressive. Daniel Greenwood is a standout as Leaf Coneybear; he lives up to his funny name with pratfalls and childlike behavior. Ben Griessmeyer as William Barfee and his "magic foot" made the audience giggle every time his turn was up. The only real student in the group, Teresa Willander, was a hoot as Marcy Park. Caitlin Mills conveys the poignant Olive Ostrousky skillfully, bringing tears and then joy with a clear, lucid voice and knockout performance. Mark Vagenas as Chip Tolentino nails the lovesick look as his character pines for Coneybear's sister. Jarde Hagen as Mitch Mahoney never disappoints. It's Mitch's role to escort each losing speller off, and he creates drama with each exit. All sing and dance wonderfully. Norgeot's consummate choreography has never been better, especially on the standout "Pandemonium."
Musical director Robert Wilder and his band are hidden backstage but boy, can you hear them! This show is he complete package. James P. Byrne's set design leaves no doubt that you are on a school gymnasium stage, and all is embellished by Gregory Norgeot's lighting design and J Hagenbuckle's sound. Erin Mahoney is the sound board operator and stage manager Martha Paquin is the light bard operator.
Go and see this show! It's F-U-N and F-U-N-N-Y!
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"
At Harwich Junior Theatre through April 18
For information and reservations call 508-432-2002 or visit www.capetix.com.