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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

August 11, 2022 Issue
PART 3 (August 12, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


The Small But Formidable Cast Will Make The 25th Annual Putnam County
Spelling Bee
, Performed Out-of-Doors at RLT, a Real Crowd-Pleaser

Raleigh Little Theatre's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee did not open on Thursday, August 11th, as planned, because of the big rainstorm that plowed through downtown Raleigh at 7 p.m. Shows in the Louise S. "Scottie" Stephenson Amphitheatre are sometimes cancelled due to weather, but the cast's enthusiasm is not dampened. They are ready to perform the show for the rest of the beautiful weekend, and next weekend as well.

And beautiful it will be. The forecast predicts low humidity and pleasant temperatures. Savvy audience members know to come early so they can stroll through the adjacent Raleigh Rose Garden, and bring their lawn chairs and a picnic to enjoy a summer night under the stars. This production will feature food trucks offering frozen treats from Brewer's Italian Ice and Majestic Ice. No wonder has listed this show as a "20 Fun Summer Date Ideas" this month.

We've been rehearsing outdoors for weeks now, and we've had pretty good luck with the weather. But we've enjoyed some other outdoor surprises. We have a neighborhood owl that often perches in the big pine tree on stage right. The crickets get extremely noisy right at 8 p.m., right during the opening number. One evening, a local cycling group rode right by the front of the stage in single file while we were rehearsing "Magic Foot," one of our big numbers. There had to be a hundred of them.

The cast is small but formidable. Leading the way is Jess Hill, playing Rona Lisa Perretti, the host and former winner of the Spelling Bee. Like many actors, this is Jess' first show since the pandemic. You may have seen Jess onstage before in Cary Players' production of Legally Blonde, which won the Triangle Theatre Award for Best Musical.

Steve Pysnik is making his debut at Raleigh Little Theatre, as Vice-Principal Douglas Panch. The first part of the show includes the opportunity for members of the audience to come onstage and participate as a speller. Pysnik's job is to choose the words and give the definition to each speller, leading to humorous moments of improvisation.

The other adult character in the cast is Mitch Mahoney the Comfort Counselor, played by Ben Muller. Ben is also new to the stage at Raleigh Little Theatre, but has appeared in local productions at the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre and with UNC Pauper Players. Mitch's job is to give the losers a hug and a juice box before escorting them off the stage. "The Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" starts with a soulful solo by Mitch and finishes with a peppy gospel-style number with the ensemble.

The other adult actors in the show play tweens -- all at that awkward age between childhood and adulthood. Each kid is so different, and their stories are hilarious, touching, embarrassing, and heartwarming -- sometimes all at the same time.

Probably the most well-known character for those who know the show or saw it on Broadway is William Barfee, the kid with the "magic foot." Performing that role is Nicholas A. Davis, who presents his own nerdily wonderful interpretation of the kid who "can only breathe through one nostril."

Callie Colvard plays the role of Olive Ostrovsky, the shy girl who makes a friend at the Bee. Callie teams up with Jess Hill and Ben Muller for the beautiful trio, "The I Love You Song." Callie is also featured in a hilarious fantasy pas de deux with Barfee.

Newcomer Sydney Kain plays Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, the kid with two pushy fathers who hover just a tad too much. Another newcomer, Maya Noor Saib, plays Marcy Park, who not only displays her skill as a speller, but a myriad of other activities in "I Speak Six Languages."

Jared Michael Scott plays Leaf Coneybear, a rather eccentric kid who makes his own clothes. Leaf arrives at the Bee thinking that he's clumsy and not very smart, but grows to realize that he's an amazingly strong and intelligent person. This is Jared's last show in the Triangle for a while. He's moving to London to pursue his Masters in Acting Training and Coaching.

Rounding out the cast is Ryan Vasconcellos, playing the role of Chip Tolentino. Ryan is a regular at Raleigh Little Theatre, recently appearing in the role of Sonny in In the Heights and Elephant in Elephant & Piggie: We Are in a Play, for which he won a Raleigh Little Theatre Spotlight Performer Award.

Set designer Shannon Clark and lighting designer Darby E. Madewell have created a fun location for the Bee, complete with colorful spotlights, and a whimsical hand-painted mural. Music director Darylene Cothren Hecht and sound designer Todd Houseknecht deliver a great night of strong vocal performances with an excellent mix.

Raleigh Little Theatre's presentation of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee stars (from left) Ben Muller, Steve Pysnik, Jess Hill,
Ryan Vasconcellos, Nicholas A. Davis, Callie Colvard, Sydney Kain, Jared Michael Scott, and Maya Noor Saib (photo by Cindy McEnery)

William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin's THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (In Person at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 12, 13, and 18-20), conceived by Rebecca Feldman, directed and choreographed for RLT by Nancy Gardner Rich, and starring Ryan Vasconcellos as Chip Tolentino, Nicholas A. Davis as William Barfee, Maya Noor Saib as Marcy Park, Jess Hill as Rona Lisa Perretti, Ben Muller as Mitch Mahoney, Jared Michael Scott as Leaf Coneybear, Callie Colvard as Olive Ostrovsky, Sydney Kain as Logaine (Schwarzy), and Steve Pysnik as VP Douglas Panch (Raleigh Little Theatre in the Louise S. "Scottie" Stephenson Amphitheatre in Raleigh). VIDEOS: 2021-22 SEASON: THE PRESENTER:,,,,, and RLT PODCAST: THE VENUE: DIRECTIONS: MAPS/PARKING/TRANSIT: ACCESSIBILITY: COVID REQUIREMENTS: THE SHOW:,, and TICKETS: $27 ($23 students and seniors 62+), plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show's 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20th, performance. NOTE 3: There will be a sensory-friendly performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2nd. INFORMATION: 919-821-3111 or PLEASE DONATE TO: Raleigh Little Theatre.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy Gardner Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women's Theatre Festival.


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