Not just another spelling bee

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It is wildly witty, it is a story about all of us in some way, it is warm and sweet with tough accents and disappointments, it is a musical that is engaging and deeply comedic; it is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee currently on stage at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.

The whole production is brilliantly designed to thoroughly engage the audience, starting with Rona (Gina D’Acciato) stepping briskly on stage and delivering the standard theatre admonishments about emergency exits, silencing cell phones and no photography, all delivered perfectly in the manner of a school teacher.

Soon the entire cast is introduced and the musical element quickly and sweetly emerges. Then the audience integration is further expanded by the selection of a few audience members to go on stage and join the group of spelling bee contestants. Yes these are simple things but they were executed superbly with the desired effect of total audience immersion.

Each character presents a person we either are or someone we know. Doug Panch (Richard Van Slyke) the presenter of words is also a frustrated Assistant Principal with issues; Marcy (Joy Regullano) is the mega talented young woman pushed relentlessly to perfection by her parents and Chip (Joey Acuna Jr.) is a very typical young teen male with an affliction that has touched the vast majority of young men right around puberty.

The spelling bee unfolds with a steady flow of music and hilarity along with the agony of defeat for there can only be one winner, or maybe not. At one point divine intervention is sought and sure enough even Jesus makes a brief appearance at the 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

This is one of the most unique theatrical performances ever created. It combines virtually every element of theatre from humor to deep drama to music and even elements of suspense. It draws heavily on full audience immersion and is when taken as a whole just plain sensational.

For that kudos to Rebecca Feldman who conceived the show, Rachel Sheinkin who wrote the book, William Finn who contributed the music and lyrics and Robert Marra who directs the performance at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is playing at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 West Sierra Madre Boulevard, Sierra Madre, California now through August 21st, 2016 with show times Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets and reservations available by calling 626-355-4318 or online at:

Top photo by John Dlugolecki. Cast members from left to right:
Hannah Leventhal, Joey Acuna Jr., Stanton Kane Morales,
Joy Regulado, Robert Michael Parkinson and Christina Gertz