Marie Clark Musical Theatre
Goodwood Institute Theatre
Until 04 Nov 2017

Review by Janice Bailey

Marie Clark Musical Theatre’s current show, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, and additional material contributed by Jay Reiss. The story is based around a fictional Spelling Bee, set in Putnam Valley Middle School, where an eclectic group of quirky children vie for the honour of Spelling Bee champion.

Adults playing children can be tricky as performances often deteriorate into unrestrained overacting. Director Kristin Telfer has managed to maintain the honesty of children within the characters and has chosen a young cast whose memories of this age group aren’t too far distant.

While there are no big full-scale dance numbers, choreographers Rachel Dow and Rebekah Stonelaitken have used their skills to provide the characters with movement and body language which creates the larger than life characters required for this show. Sarah Whiteley, in her debut as Musical Director, has done extremely well, with the orchestra providing a tight musical accompaniment.

I first saw Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of this show in 2006, starring Marina Prior, David Campbell and Magda Szubanski and fell in love with the concept. I also had high expectations of what I wanted to see. I wasn’t disappointed.

Sarah Wildy is delightful as Rona Peretti, a former Spelling Bee champion and her vocal numbers are a highlight. Each performer has created a very believable character. Alisa James’s portrayal of Olive is believable. She is engaging and connects with the audience. Naomi Crosby’s strong portrayal of Marcy never falters, while Gus Robson’s Chip is also delightful. Shay Stonelaitken as Leaf Coneybear and Ashleigh McFadden as Barfee maintain believable characterisations throughout. Jamie Wright is suitably quirky as Vice Principal Panch, delivering a consistent performance. Joseph Giblin is also consistent in his portrayal of Mitch, taking his duty of ‘sending off’ the failed contestants very seriously. My personal favourite is Emily-Jo Davidson’s Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre was delightful – her energy and cute ‘lisp’ maintained throughout.

Mention must also be made of the creative team – Shannon Norfolk for the colourful and quirky costumes. Rodney Bates’ lighting design and Shannon Norfolk’s set design work extremely well. This is a show well worth seeing.

Jamie Wright is a member of the ATG team.