The Funny Side of Lamb’s at the ‘Putnam County Spelling Bee’

The cast (photos courtesy of Ken Jacques).

The cast (photos courtesy of Ken Jacques).

For the last few seasons, Lamb’s Players Theatre has staged an eclectic selection of musicals during the summer. Last year, the company presented the New Testament-inspired Harry Chapin show, Cotton Patch Gospel, and in 2022, the organization staged the jukebox musical, Million Dollar Quartet.

This year, Lamb’s shifts gears again with a great staging of the musical comedy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Several quirky middle school students including a self-centered contender, William Barfee (Omri Schein), a dictionary-loving pre-teen, Olive Ostrovsky (Caitie Grady), and an unconfident homeschooled “underachiever,” Leaf Conybear (Ben van Diepen), take part in the competition for a trophy and a $200 prize. While the contest is seemingly a lighthearted tribute to spelling, the majority of the contestants are eager to win and feel that earning first place will positively impact their lives.

Producing Artistic Director, Robert Smyth, creates an immersive atmosphere as audiences enter the theatre. He utilizes Mike Buckley’s set and school-friendly songs, courtesy of Patrick Duffy’s audio, to make theatregoers immediately feel like they are attending the fictional event.

Volunteers at the Coronado venue play in the bee, which leads to several of the funniest moments. It is amusing to see how the contestants react to over-the-top dialogue from judges, Rona Lisa Peretti (Nancy Snow Carr) and Douglas Panch (Geno Carr).

While a few spoken words and lyrics have been updated to minimize occasionally dated jokes, Smyth is still able to honor the irreverent spirit of book writer, Rachel Sheinkin, and the memorable songs from William Finn. The storyteller and the performers get the audience to care about the spellers (Jemima Dutra’s costumes perfectly fit their personalities), due to the balance of humor and empathy from the ensemble.

The artists are a mix of triple-threat newcomers and cast members who have been in prior renditions. Schein, Snow Carr, and Carr have portrayed William and the judges in the past, and they are just as strong in this current production.

Grady, Diepen, Ernest Sauceda, Isabella Pruter, Megan Carmitchel, and Bryan Barbarin are equally comedic and likable as a variety of youthful individuals that become fascinating as we learn about them.

Omri Schein.

Omri Schein.

Each of the tunes incorporates four musicians featuring band leader/keyboardist Ben Read, and character-focused choreography from Colleen Kollar Smith. Because of their work, the numbers are a pleasure to hear and see.

Although the story is largely meant to be comical, there is a musical number that is completely serious, “The I Love You Song.” Some will be tearing up from the wonderful vocals and others might feel tonal whiplash from the quick mood change. It works at Lamb’s, because of the beautiful singing from Grady, Snow Carr, and Sauceda, coupled with Michelle Miles’ lighting that provides a somber contrast from a generally upbeat night.

While I have found the climax between the last two finalists to be a bit excessive in other versions, Smyth handles the pacing expertly, which allows the final section to become more suspenseful than usual.

Lamb’s has picked another very fun summertime musical, and this one is full of big laughs and touching moments. You might just find yourself rooting for each of the players to succeed not only at the bee, but in life as well.

Show times are Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m, Thursdays at 7:00 p.m, Fridays at 7:00 p.m, Saturdays at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

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Lamb’s Players Theatre
1142 Orange Ave. Coronado CA 92118 Work Phone: 691.437.6000 Website: LPT website
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