I was so pleased to learn that Park Playhouse was moving to a year-round season, rather than just a summer season; I was even happier to hear that they’d be utilizing Cohoes Music Hall for their shows outside of the summer months, so the venue won’t be going underutilized. This is a win all-around for the community, and their current production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, shows that this was an excellent move for the group, and they’re not just for summer anymore.
At the bee, we meet the group of children competing to represent Putnam County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.; they are brilliant overachievers, but they are still children underneath it all, attempting to succeed under the immense amount of pressure coming from both themselves and the adults in their lives.
Director Owen Smith, also the producing artistic director of Park Playhouse, has brought together a strong group of actors for the production; they look and sound beautiful onstage, and they also seem to be having fun up there, and for me, that’s almost as important as the talent itself. Katy Corbus, as Olive Ostrovsky, has a powerful voice and the right amount of pixie’s charm for the role; her work in “The I Love You Song” with Molly Rose McGrath and Brandon Jones as her parents is strong and breathtaking, and the song is a standout. McGrath brings her beautiful voice to the role of Rona Lisa Perretti, and her work with Marc Christopher (always a scene-stealer) as Doug Panch is so much fun. Jones, as comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney, is both a voice of reason and comic relief, and his voice is so resonant it gives you chills. Christopher Frazier’s William Barfee is a more heartfelt portrayal than I’ve seen before – and possibly my favorite; he infuses Barfee with more heart than I think the script even gives him, and in doing so, makes the character more believable and less of a caricature. Strong work. Steve Raymond, playing Leaf Coneybear, is utter perfection; his character is the only one whose fate got an audible reaction from the audience, showing he’d won everyone over completely.
One of the best things about the show is how much fun it is, and the lightheartedness here is infectious. Audience members are asked to come on stage and be volunteer spellers (yes, you can be one, too – check the website!); word definitions and sample sentences are not-at-all-canon and hilarious; there’s a seat of your pants feeling throughout, but you know it’s never at risk of running off the rails and is being kept in place with a deft hand.
There’s something here for everyone, truly – the music is beautiful and the lyrics are both intelligent and fun, the actors are talented and filled with joy, the show itself is one you leave with a smile on your face. Be sure to catch this before it closes – it’s well worth your time, and you’ll be glad you did.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Park Playhouse, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes; through March 11; $25-$15; Run time: 1 hour and 35 minutes; http://www.parkplayhouse.com/