Thursday, June 13, 2024

L-A-U-G-H Your Way Through “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Lamb’s Players Theatre

The quirky and loveable spelling bee contestants. Photo by Ken Jacques

Words like syzygy, boanthropy, ossuary, capybara, and so many other interesting real and made-up words are highlighted as the contestants in Lamb’s Players Theatre production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” sing, dance, and spell their way to the final round, hoping to be crowned the winner. The fun begins when you enter the lobby, where guests of all ages have the chance to sign up to participate in the show. Four participants are selected by lottery, so they don’t know they are part of the show until their names are called to come up on stage. Whether you are a logophile like me or really aren’t that into words, I promise you will be enchanted by this outstanding cast.

The setting is the Putnam Piranhas gym, complete with bleachers, basketball hoop and a giant trophy. The audience is first introduced to the prim and caring former Spelling Bee champion Rona Piretti, played expertly by Nancy Snow Carr, who helps guide the contestants throughout the show. Her sidekick is Vice Principal Douglas Punch, played by Geno Carr, who is prone to breakdowns.

Prepared to be charmed by the six quirky and extremely talented middle school spelling bee contestants as they share their touching stories. I have to call out William Barfee, played entertainingly by Omri Schein, for his superb comedic physicality, as the beloved nerd who uses his “magic foot” to spell. Ultimately, he discovers it’s not only about winning, as he learns to embrace friendship. Best outrageous costume goes to Leaf Coneybear, played hilariously by Ben van Diepen. As a homeschooled child, complete with colorful outfit and cape he made himself, he wears a helmet for safety, and has a puppet to help him spell.

Boy Scout Chip Tolentino, played by Ernest Sauceda, is a straight-laced hormonal teenager, who has the most amazing voice, which he also showcases in another role. Overachiever Marcy Park, played endearingly by Isabella Pruter, is the quintessential overachiever who speaks seven languages. demonstrates an array of sports, and discovers the joy in choosing to fall short of perfection.

Caitie Grady shines as Olive. Photo by Ken Jacques

Loveable Olive Ostrovsky, played sweetly by Caitie Grady, is a smart, yet lonely child striving for her parents’ attention. Obsessed with words, she shares that if you switch the two vowels in her name Olive, it means I love. Spunky Schwartzy, played with a lisp by Megan Carmitchel, has a lot of pressure from her dads, who want the best for her. Always a Lamb’s Players Theatre favorite, Bryan Barbarin wears several hats through this production as counselor, father, and don’t be surprised to see him in a deity role.

Bryan Barbarin plays has several roles. Photo by Ken Jacques

Alas, there can only be one champion, but you are guaranteed to be rooting for each of the zany contestants to win more than just the conciliatory juice box after the buzzer signals their misspelling. The four audience participants who were blended into the play added an extra sense of spontaneity, with never a dull moment. And be forewarned that sprinkled throughout the show were some political and sexual innuendos.

Shoutout to the Piranha Prep Band, with Band Leader Ben Read on keyboard, Diana Elledge on cello, David Rumley on percussion, and Stefanie Schmitz on woodwinds, for their outstanding accompaniment of the energetic musical numbers. The show’s productions have had rave reviews around the world, and is based on the book by Rachel Sheinkin, with music and lyrics by William Finn. Credit for this entertaining performance also goes to Director Robert Smyth, who joined Lamb’s Players Theatre in 1976, along with Assistant Director and Choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith, and Musical Director G. Scott Lacy.

This fast-paced, laugh out loud musical, designed for ages 13 and above, runs through August 18, and is the perfect summer entertainment ticket. Shows are Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm and 7 pm, Thursday and Fridays at 7 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets range from $38 to $92, with discounts available for seniors (66+) and veterans. Half-price tickets are available for Active Duty Military, youth (ages 5–17), and young adults (18–34) that join the theatre’s free under 35 Club.

Details and tickets are available online at or at the Lamb’s Players Theatre Box Office (1142 Orange Ave), open on Wednesday through Saturdays from noon to 6 pm, or by calling 619-437-6000.


Jennifer Velez
Jennifer Velez
Jennifer fell in love with Coronado as a teenager while visiting a college friend. She vowed that someday she would make it her home, and that dream has recently become a reality. Fast forward through completing college with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations and Communications, she then went on to work with a variety of clients. She also taught Journalism and coordinated fundraising for her children’s school, and was a staff writer for San Diego Family Magazine and contributed to other parenting publications. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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