Saturday, June 16, 2018
Features and More

Theater review: 'Putnam County Spelling Bee' at Stage West in Spring Hill

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a relatively short musical (two hours, including an intermission) where the spelling matters little, but what it reveals about kids, parents and teachers does.

On the surface, Bee is a madcap mix of quirky nerds and misfits trying to best each other at a small-town spelling bee, but writer Rachel Sheinkin's Tony Award-winning script digs below that thin veneer to reveal the often painful relationships between parents and kids, kids and kids, and grownups in general.

Some of that revelation is obvious — the pushy parents, the pushed kids, the indifferent parents too involved with themselves to notice their kids, the eager-to-please kids — but some is more subtle and takes careful listening to pick up. But it's worth the effort, and, despite some sound glitches on opening night at Stage West Community Playhouse, it mostly came through, thanks to some fine performances by director Patty Villegas' cast and outfits by costumer Leanne Germann that helped define what the characters are all about.

This is an ensemble, but dorky vice principal Panch (Jeff Germann) gets the best laugh lines, as he define the words and uses them in a sentence for the contestants. Take "phylactery," a leather box used in Jewish prayers, for instance. The contextual sentence? "Billy, put down that phylactery; we're Episcopalian."

Christian Rice plays the ex-con Mitch Mahoney, who is serving as "comfort counseler" to the losing contestants as part of his community service duties, with an appealing mix of tough and touching. Sarah Huff's precocious Marcy Park is a wonder to behold as she dances around the stage in rebellious joy when she realizes she doesn't have to be perfect.

Michael Mekus is poignantly appealing as the hormone-challenged Chip Tolentino, who is ousted through no fault of his own, but reporting a later reward during the prefinale updates on the future lives of the contestants. Jessica Virginia does a subdued but effective job as the spelling bee moderator Rona Peretti.

Jacob Rice is sweetly appealing as Leaf Coneybear, his family's supposed "loser" who, nonetheless, comes to love and appreciate himself. Dani Lips plays the outspoken Logainne Schwartzandgrubinerre, the girl with two dads, with spunk and wit.

The show's darling is Julia Rifino as Olive Ostrovsky, the smart girl with the self-absorbed parents. Rifino's clear voice is pure joy in My Friend, The Dictionary and the moving The I Love You Song.

The most memorable character is Jamie Smeriglio's William Barfee, mainly because of Smeriglio's spot-on physical humor and mix of confidence and self-doubt.

Kris Hamlin does a good job in the double roles of Ralph, Miss Perretti's assisant, and Logainne's co-dad.

Composer-lyricist William Finn's score doesn't have a single hummable tune; most of the melodies are rather free-form. Even so, musical director Ashley McCall's eight-piece combo does a marvelous job.

Spelling Bee might not have the audience leaping to its feet, but it does provide a sweet and insightful evening of entertainment.

Comments
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
With over 40 years between the birth of my two daughters, I am two different fathers

With over 40 years between the birth of my two daughters, I am two different fathers

Still shaken by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination six days earlier, I sat in the hospital waiting room mindlessly thumbing through a May 1968 Rolling Stone while my wife, Fran, gave birth to our daughter Elle. As was customary, when everyone had been fre...
Published: 06/15/18
Puerto Vallarta is a dreamy Mexican getaway within reach

Puerto Vallarta is a dreamy Mexican getaway within reach

LOREN ELLIOTT • Times CorrespondentPUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICOThe third-floor balcony attached to our rented apartment served as a peaceful refuge above Puerto Vallarta’s bustling central district streets. Below us, taxis honked, people crowded bus ...
Published: 06/15/18
How Tampa's Cole and Marmalade got famous, beat cancer and helped save more cats

How Tampa's Cole and Marmalade got famous, beat cancer and helped save more cats

Here's how to make your cat famous on the internet, according to the owners of some famous felines.
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Updated: 9 hours ago
High-tech nighttime lagoon show coming to Universal Orlando this summer

High-tech nighttime lagoon show coming to Universal Orlando this summer

A gliding, wraith-like figure of a Dementor from the Harry Potter films enters Central Park, and the exteriors of the surrounding buildings immediately are covered in a layer of ice, a sign of their power to drain happiness out of the air around them...
Published: 06/14/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
Frito and Cheeto: How rescued seahorses found webcam fame

Frito and Cheeto: How rescued seahorses found webcam fame

Smile for the camera, Frito. The world is watching, and you have a story to tell. The tiny seahorse came to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Sunday with fishing line wrapped around her neck. By Wednesday, she became the CMA’s newest internet ...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
He loves his Dad Shoes ... in all their lame, comfortable glory

He loves his Dad Shoes ... in all their lame, comfortable glory

Think of your father, and the first pair of shoes that come to mind. Grass-stained golf cleats. Crusty old mudders on the deck. Fraying, decaying Birkenstocks. Burgundy leather loafers, the slip-on kind, softened and flattened by the weight of so ma...
Published: 06/13/18