Do you remember being 11 or 12 years old? Think hard. Do you remem-ber all of the emotions that were running through your body? The doubts about the way you looked. The worry about whether or not you were good enough. The hormones!!
Do you remember all of that, and the embarrassment you felt at any given mo-ment? If you do, pick up the phone and call the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, be-cause this is a chance to laugh at all those moments, to let them go, and in fact, to celebrate them. And you get to do it all at the Putnam County Spelling Bee.The show, which ofﬁcially opened on Saturday night, is the ﬁ rst in the theatre’s 49th season. This season is, as Artistic Director Bo Thorp terms it, a warm up for the 50th anniversary of the theatre. If that’s the case, than next season will blow your socks off.
Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by Kappy Kilburn, is a musical that tells the story of six pre-teens who face off in the annual spelling bee. But they aren’t just ruminating over the spelling of some really tough words, they are also deal-ing with what seems to be monumental problems of growing up.
The audience can identify with these characters because at some point and time in our lives we were wrestling with the same issues. It reminds us of where we were and hopefully reminds us to give thanks that we made it through that time.
Leading the cast are local favorites Cassandra Vallery, who plays Rona Lisa Perretti, a former spelling bee winner and announcer for the event, and Ken Griggs, who plays the role of a convicted con art-ist (Mitch Mahoney) pulling community service as a comfort counselor for those students who are elimi-nated from the bee.
Vallery and Griggs have performed in a number of productions together and work together like a well-oiled machine. Their timing is impeccable and their voices blend beautifully throughout the play, but nowhere more so than in a duet where they are double cast as the parents of Olive Os-trovsky (played by Griggs’ daughter Molly.) “The I Love You Song” lets a less than important daughter deal with her issues of abandonment and with her dreams of the perfect parental relationship.
I’ve seen the elder Griggs in a num-ber of shows over the past several years, but I have to say that his performance of “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” is per-haps the best I’ve ever seen. The song was written for his voice and the energy he brings to it makes you feel like you want to get up and dance with them, possibly even yell “Glory!”
Robbie Gay, an Alabama native, who left the audience laughing in the aisles through his portrayal of Smee in last sea-son’s Peter Pan, plays the slightly unstable vice principal, who is the co-commentator with Vallery. The two trade witty barbs with the contestants, and in the case of the show I witnessed, ad libbed a number of comments with the audience.
That is what is unique about this show. The audience isn’t just an audience, they are roped into the play and are asked to participate. I coerced two of my friends to go on stage as guest spellers, and while they were put out in the ﬁ rst round, the experience made the play all the more fun for them, and for the audience as a whole.
In upcoming shows look for local celebrities to join the talented cast on stage – even though it might only be for a minute.
While I loved the entire show — be-lieve me, it is laugh-out-loud funny — Dane Agostinis, playing William Barfee, won my heart. Barfee is the kid that gets picked on in the halls. He’s more than eccentric, and a little rude to those he interacts with. The rudeness stems from his longing to just be a part of the group. He’s the underdog, and we all love to root for the underdog.
But more than that, he is hysterically funny. His singing of “Magic Foot” left the audience in tears and rolling in the aisles. It also brought about a great Broadway ﬁnale-type number to the stage
.This play has it all: great singing, great comedy, great dancing and a great back story. You’ll leave feeling 12-years-old — only without the angst.
The show runs through Oct. 10. Make your reservations now!