A View from the Cliff: Rockaway Theatre Company’s ‘Spelling Bee’ is an H-I-T

25th Annual Spelling Bee photo courtesy David Bryant Johnson at RTC
Courtesy of David Bryant Johnson


Are you ready to mind your P’s and Q’s?  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is about to begin. Just find your seats at the Post Theatre in Fort Tilden/Gateway National Park. The Rockaway Theatre Company’s talented performers are presenting this affectionate musical comedy.  

On opening night the house is full. The adults portray likable if somewhat nerdy school-age children. Their exaggerated quirks and strengths are a delight to watch.  Each contestant rises to the challenge as sometimes baffling and sometimes simplistic words are deciphered.

Though seemingly harmless, the show is filled with adult humor and political jabs. Poignant views of life and love are cleverly woven into the storyline. The performers interact frequently with the audience. In fact, several “unsuspecting” theatergoers are invited onstage to participate in the spelling bee.

The regular competitors possess extraordinarily unusual names, off-beat clothing or uncommon hobbies. Let’s see. There’s Logaine Schwartzandgrubenniere played loudly and well by Sam Livigni. Her two dads are driving her to premature neurosis. Will she overcome?

Leaf Coneybear is joyously played by Brian Sadowski. He sings “I’m Not That Smart” with absolute glee! William Barfee (that’s pronounced BarFAY) is the most impatient speller.  Played by Jeremy Plyburn, he sings “Magic Foot” with self-satisfied confidence. Chip Tolentino (Georgie Raiola) wrestles with puberty more than with the lexicon. Marcy Park (Ashley Chico) is just so tired of being perfect. Lonely but big hearted Olive Ostrovsky is nicely portrayed by Melody Portnoy. Her smile is truly contagious. 

And let’s not forget the three adults who actually portrayed adults. Vice Principal Panch (Robert Wilkinson) has quite a crush on current realtor and previous winner of the bee, Rona Lisa Perretti (Kristen Plyburn). The spelling bee represents the nostalgic highlight of her life. Menacing paroled convict Mitch Mahoney (Erech Holder-Hetmeyer) gains a heart of gold by the end of the competition.

Local favorite Catherine Leib choreographs and then co-directs with theater veteran Susan Warren Corning (who also is the troupe’s costumer).  The orchestra, led by Richard Louis-Pierre maintains its consistently high standards. Kudos to stage manager Suzanne Riggs, executive producer Susan Jasper, and sets/scenic designs led by Anthony Homsey and Frank Caiati. Applause as well to the entire support staff too numerous to acknowledge by name.

For information on this and future productions, click on www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org, call 718-374-6400 or “like” them on Facebook.

As always, save me a seat on the aisle.

Courtesy of Rockaway Theatre Company

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