Everybody needs a juice box, when your parents aren't there for you, when your friends keep telling you are not hip or if you are tired of being too smart. Spindrift Players, can be your juice box, as they host THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, now open through March 1st. Director Doug Greer’s bucket list of shows to stage has always included this show “The thing that mesmerized me the most (is) the sincerity of the characters. I feel so lucky to have finally gotten to work on this dream show and with this company.” Greer’s cast of nine Bay Area favorites all transform the Spindrift Gym into the delightful SPELLING BEE.

Originally a play created by Rebecca Feldman for her New York-based improvisational comedy group, its transition into the present script was done by Rachel Sheinkin with music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos). The 2005 Broadway production was a hit, garnering six Tony Award nominations, including Best Book. The SPELLING BEE has been a huge hit and it has been staged here on Bay stages for many years but one thing about this show, is the cast can take the Middle School kids in different directions and the script is always open to improvisation. Spelling contestants are also invited from the audience that opens the show to new twists with each performance.

The company opens the BEE with the banner song “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" that includes the accomplished Morgan Collazo Cross as Middle school teacher Miss Peretti who remembers her years when she was in the BEE. Cross sings “My Favorite Moment at the Bee” with the company and proves her polished voice that filled the Gym. SPELLING BEE features six middle school students exploring their identities in their own unique ways, the awkwardness of puberty against the backdrop of a competitive spelling bee. The diversity of these kids is highly exaggerated for humorous purposes, giving each speller their own story. And for all the cuteness and easy laughter that's served up, there are song-worthy emotions that can catch you, grabbing you by the heart when you least expect it.

Each of the six middle school pre teens bring show stopping numbers as they tackle their fears, twitches and words to spell. Sweet Olive Ostrovsky dreams of attention and support from her absent parents. Paige Collazo plays Olive and the purity of her voice in “I Love You Song” a song she sings to her parents turns a small poignant moment into something truly beautiful. Revealing such moments in a brisk two-act romp probably isn't an easy task, but director Greer makes it look as simple as spelling "cow" a word that one contestant gets, to the outrage of the others.

The brilliant Juan Castro plays the caped kid Leaf ConeyBear and every time he is center stage he stops the show. His performance of “I’m not that Smart” is superb and Castro brings a fresh child spirit to life as young wide eyed Leaf. His hypnotized face for many of his spelling challenges is priceless.

The full throttle William Rhea as the keen William Barfee is hysterical, dancing out each word he spells and reminding us of kids we used to love to watch work out their ticks. Rhea sings the classic Bee song “Magic Foot” and brought the sold out opening night crowd to cheers.

The reigning champion from the previous year’s bee Chip Tolentino is played by the marvelous Jay Thulien and he sings his own solo “Chips Lament” with passion and humor. Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre played by the enduring pigtailed Lindsay Schulz is the youngest speller who has two overbearing fathers - she is featured in the song “Woe is Me” and does a groundbreaking speech in one of the scenes.

The last speller is Marcy Park played by the overachieving confident Vanity Olaires who sings the proud song “I Speak Six Languages” with conviction and valor. The all-adult cast is letter-perfect. The contestants are joined by judge and former champion Miss Rona Lisa Peretti played by the pitch perfect Morgan Cross and her difficult partner, Vice-Principal Panch played by the on point Jason Bustos. The VP is heated and bitter trying to come back from a melt-down at another spelling bee. Bustos is hilarious in the role especially in delivering the ad-libbed sentence examples.

The backbone supporting the kids is counselor Mitch Mahoney who is the "juice box saint" and leads them off-stage after they misspell their words. Mitch is played by the exceptional Jepoy Ramos who sings “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor” as the kids cling to his words. These are the times when a consolation juice box and a quick hug from the Comfort Counselor can help soften the blow.

Kudos to Director Greer, Stage Manager Amanda Roccuzzo, and Musical Director Jay Thulien for leading the ensemble to be prepared for anything. One of the things that sets SPELLING BEE apart is the four random members of the audience contestants along with the actors who give each performance a different take. Julia Thollaug’s vividly playful choreography is another strength of this fun romp. She used the company's Stage as a transformed gym and kept each number a pop fun tap your feet including the over the top "Pandemonium".

Set designers Brigitte Losey and Carpenter Gary Smith created a realistic Gym with an Auditorium stage and curtains that brings anyone back to their middle school days. The students carry and use some very clever props designed by Michelle Morales. The kids pull at their unfashionable stockings or their hair trying to come up with the right spelling, and Greer’s sympathies are with them. Little touches by costume designer Jennifer Gough work wonders with the rumpled, mis-buttoned shirt worn by the surly, eccentric William Barfee, or the cape tie-dye charming look worn by Leaf ConeyBear. Aya Matsutomo's lighting design includes colorful spot highlights in "Pandemonium" when the kids cut loose, and focuses a drop soft light on Leaf when he is in his spelling trance. Her lighting is so spot on it becomes one of the characters in the show, I was very impressed.

THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is charming fun with the award-winning book, the tuneful score and the talented cast, is its heart. It is a lovable show with a theme that resonates with just about everybody who ever went to middle school. Greer and company have found the truth in the characters' stories. You will recognize each one, they connect with all of us. Next up at Spindrift Players is NO EXIT that opens March 20th and this spring the classic Tennessee Williams A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE will open April 24th. In the meantime come ready to spell some words and take a nice trip to the ocean side town of Pacifica Ca and join the kids in the Spindrift Gym - you will have the best time.

Pacifica Spindrift Players Presents

The 25th Annual Putnam

County Spelling Bee

Music and Lyrics by William Finn

Book by Rachel Sheinkin

Directed by Doug Greer

Music Director Jay Thulien,

Choreographer Julia Thollaug

Must close March 1, 2020

PSP Theater, 1050 Crespi Drive, Pacifica, CA

Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Two hours with one intermission


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Photo’s by Mark and Tracy Photography

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